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In December, the archbishop of Iraq's Syrian Orthodox Church finally called on Christians to emigrate. His statement followed a series of attacks on Iraqi Christians, headlined by an October massacre in Baghdad's Sayidat al-Nejat Church that killed 53 worshipers.

"I say clearly and now—the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," said Archbishop Athanasios Dawood in remarks sent to CNN in November. "This is better than having them killed one by one."

In other Middle Eastern countries, Christians are emigrating mostly to escape economic difficulties. Still, leaders are aggressively pursuing strategies to entice fellow believers to stay.

"All populations are affected by housing and economic problems," said Riad Kassis, Middle East regional director for Overseas Council International.

"Non-Christians get substantial support from Islamic countries. Christians can hardly get anything for this purpose."

A special Middle East synod convened in October by Pope Benedict XVI identified the same problem, concluding that the region's Christians are badly in need of "safe and affordable housing."

The largest housing project for Christians in Jerusalem is "Jerusalem: Stones of Memory," financed by the Franciscan Brothers. Established in 2002, it provides about 800 units between Jerusalem and neighboring Bethlehem, and supplements the work of the Greek Orthodox Church, which runs 10 subsidized apartment buildings near Bethlehem that house 64 families.

Security walls erected by the Israeli government, however, have curtailed economic opportunities for many residents, leading an increasing number to emigrate.

"It is not a terrible situation, but it is not easy to live ...

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In the Magazine

February 2011

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