Catholic Church in the Middle East

Lebanon has the highest rate of Christians in the Middle East, where the percentage ranges between 39% and 40.5% of its population. (no official census has been made in Lebanon since 1932)

The Catholic Church, which originated in the Middle East in the 1st century AD, had been one of the major religions of the region from 4th-century Byzantine reforms and until the Arab Islamic conquests of the mid-to-late 7th century AD.

Christianity in the Middle East is characterized with its diverse beliefs and traditions, compared to other parts of the Old World. Christians now make up 5% of the Middle Eastern population, down from 20% in the early 20th century.[1]

Proportionally, Lebanon has the highest rate of Christians in the Middle East, where the percentage ranges between 39% and 40.5%, followed directly by Egypt where most likely Christians (especially ethnic Copts) account for about 10 percent.

The second largest Christian group in the Middle East is the Arabic-speaking Maronites who are Catholics and number some 1.1–1.2 million across the Middle East, mainly concentrated within Lebanon. Many Maronites often avoid an Arabic ethnic identity in favour of a pre-Arab Phoenician-Canaanite heritage, to which most of the Lebanese population belongs. In Israel, Maronites are classified as ethnic Arameans and not Lebanese (together with smaller Aramaic-speaking Christian populations of Syriac Orthodox and Greek Catholics).

The Arab Christians, who mostly descended from Arab Christian tribes, are adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They number more than 1.5 million. Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite are small in numbers. Most Catholics are Maronite, Melkites, Catholic Syrians, Armenians and Chaldeans (from Iraq).Protestants altogether number about 400,000. Arabized Catholic Melkite Christians of the Byzantine Rite, who are usually referred as Arab Christians as well, number over 1 million in the Middle East. They came into existence as a result of a schism within the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch over election of a Patriarch in 1724.

The Eastern Aramaic speaking Assyrians of Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and northeastern Syria, who number 2–3 million, have suffered both ethnic and religious persecution over the last few centuries such as the Assyrian Genocide conducted by the Ottoman Turks, leading to many fleeing and congregating in areas in the north of Iraq and northeast of Syria. The great majority are Catholic Chaldeans. In Iraq, the numbers of Assyrians has declined to between 250,000 and 300,000 (from 0.8–1.4 million before 2003 US invasion). Christians were between 800,000 and 1.2 million before 2003.[2] During 2014, the Assyrian population of North Iraq collapsed due to the Muslim Jihadist persecution.

A 2015 study estimates 483,500 Christian believers from a Muslim background in the Middle East, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism.[3]

The number of Middle Eastern Christians is dropping due to such factors as low birth rates compared with Muslims, disproportionately high emigration rates, and ethnic and religious persecution. In addition, political turmoil has been and continues to be a major contributor pressing indigenous Middle Eastern Christians of various ethnicities towards seeking security and stability outside their homelands. Recent spread of Jihadist and Salafist ideology, foreign to the tolerant values of the local communities in Syria and Egypt has also played a role in unsettling Christians' decades-long peaceful existence.[4] In 2011, it was estimated that at the present rate, the Middle East's 12 million Christians would likely drop to 6 million by the year 2020.[5]


  1. Willey, David (10 October 2010). "Rome 'crisis' talks on Middle East Christians". BBC. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  2. "With Arab revolts, region's Christians mull fate". 3 October 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  3. Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". IJRR. 11: 14. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  4. Chrisafis, Angelique; Kingsley, Patrick; Beaumont, Peter (9 February 2013). "Violent tide of Salafism threatens the Arab spring". The Guardian. London.
  5. Daniel Pipes. "Disappearing Christians in the Middle East". Daniel Pipes. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
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