Israel, Salvation, Election, and the Land

by Jimmy Akin

in Theology

A reader writes:

As a person scheduled to start RCIA courses this Fall with my family, I approach this issue with fresh new eyes.  I’m interested in the Catholic perspective on the below issues, and there seems to be a wide variety of opinions on the topic.  We’ve got a pretty interesting thread going in your "What Is Happening In The Middle East" article

I’ll say! The thing is almost a month old and still going strong. It’s got almost 500 comments at the time of this writing, which as far as I know makes it the single most-commented on post we’ve ever had here at JA.O.

…a lot of interesting theories, but great need for sound scholarship in a few different areas…namely:

1. Is the redemptive process for Jewish folks the same as it is for Gentile folks? (both pre and post return of the Messiah); and

St. Paul is quite clear that the basis for salvation is the same for both Jews and Gentiles and that it is Jesus Christ. All are bound to accept the Christian faith for salvation. To culpably refuse to do so would be to reject salvation on the terms that God offers it. This is not to say that God cannot save those who inculpably do not accept the Christian faith. He can. It will still be Christ who saves them, even if they didn’t realize this in the present life.

The New Testament furher makes it clear that the covenants God established with Israel prior to the time of Christ–while they are of great value and enduring significance–do not provide salvation. Therefore it is not possible to hold that Jewish people are saved on the basis of covenants established prior to Christ.

The Old Law thus in some ways functioned for Israel the way that canon law tends to today. It was a body of legislation that made a particular application of the eternal law to a particular people living in a particular time and place–and failing to observe its grave provisions could be a mortal sin just as much as failing to observe grave obligations under canon law can be–but the Mosaic Law’s purpose–like canon law–was never to provide salvation itself:

"We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Gal. 2:15-16).

"If a Law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:21-22).

"For it is impossible  that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and
offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt  offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.  Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’    as it is written of me in the roll of the book" (Heb. 10:4-7). 

Because the Mosaic Law never provided salvation (it dealt with ceremonial and temporal consequences of sin; see my book The Salvation Controversy for more on that), it cannot so provide salvation to anyone today.

This means that the basis for salvation for all human beings today is the same as it always has been: Jesus Christ. It’s just a question of how much knowledge a person in a particular situation has regarding God’s plan and whether he accepts it according to the understanding he has. If a person knows that God’s plan centers of Jesus of Nazareth then he is responsible for accepting that. If he does not (as is the case with many people–including Jewish individuals–in today’s world and as was the case with everybody prior to the First Coming of Christ) then he is responsible for accepting as much of God’s plan as he understands.

Thus the New Testament makes it clear that acceptance of the Christian faith is mandatory for both Jews and Gentiles today, and this will not change after the Second Coming. That will simply make it obvious to all that God’s plan centered on Jesus of Nazareth.

Just to clear away another possible misunderstanding: Having heard about Jesus is not sufficient to make one culpable for rejecting him. It is quite possible for a person to hear about Jesus without being presented with sufficient evidence for his role in God’s plan so that one is not under a moral obligation to accept this message. This is the same as it is with any truth claim: The mere fact that we hear it does not automatically mean we are responsible for believing it. We have to be given sufficient evidence for its truth before we are morally bound to accept it. (There are a few exceptions to this–in the case of statements that are self-validating like "You think, therefore you are [maybe]"–but even then one must think through the statement sufficiently well to realize that it is self-validating. Hearing it isn’t enough.)

2. Are the Jews still God’s chosen people (post-new covenant), with any right and entitlement to the land of Israel? (either exclusive of or with Gentile rights, etc.)

This is actually two questions.

First, yes, the Jewish people is still elect of God. St. Paul makes this very clear, particularly in Romans 11. Note in particular St. Paul’s statements about unbelieving Jews still being beloved on account of the Patriarchs and how they can and one day will be grafted back into "their own" tree (in contrast to us Gentiles, who have been grafted into it contrary to our nature since it is not "our" tree). This presupposes a continuing role for the Jewish people in God’s plan, and Paul could not be more explicit than saying that "as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Heb. 11:28-29).

The Jewish people is thus still elect, whether or not a particular Jewish individual has accepted the Christian faith.

The Church also acknowledges a continuing role for the Jewish people that is linked to the Second Coming of Christ:

CCC 674 The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by "all Israel", for "a hardening has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old." St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the Gentiles", will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", in which "God may be all in all".

MORE HERE.

AND HERE.

As to the second question, whether the Jewish people still have a special title to the Holy Land, this is a theologically open question. Scripture certainly uses emphatic language about it being an everlasting possession of theirs, but Scriptural statements of this nature often have to be understood with some nuance and cannot always be applied in a straightforward fashion.

I’d also note that whether there is some kind of continuing title to the land is a separate question than whether the present state of Israel is a legitimate bearer of that title, which is a separate question than whether the present state of Israel was created in a moral means, which is a separate question than whether the present state of Israel–now created–has a right to defend itself vigorously. So there’s a bunch of separate questions there.

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{ 29 comments }

J.R. Stoodley August 16, 2006 at 1:53 pm

Thanks for clearing that up Jimmy.

John August 16, 2006 at 2:29 pm

Great article Jimmy…interesting how the “blow Israel off the face of the map” lobby go silent in the face of great scholarship. Very poingnant, timely posting…
John
p.s. the last sentence/paragraph would be interesting to hear about as well…many great questions if you’re ever left wanting for subject matter…

Jeb Protestant August 16, 2006 at 3:40 pm

Jimmy,
I’m sure you meant Romans 11:28-29 rather than Hebrews.
In any event, I don’t see how this verse indicates that the Jews remain God’s chosen people. Jesus said to them in Matthew “21:43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
Paul told the Jews that as a nation they were guilty of the death of Jesus. I Thess. 2:14-16.
Paul also said in Galatians that the true Jews are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. The vast majority of Jews today are unbelievers and thus are spiritual imposters.

JohnD August 16, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Jeb,
Nations cannot be culpable for sin, as nations do not have a will and intellect. Only individual persons have a will and an intellect.

Jeb Protestant August 16, 2006 at 4:01 pm

JohnD,
If you read the prophets, you will see that they speak of the culpability of nations.

JohnD August 16, 2006 at 4:03 pm

Jeb,
Not in a literalistic sense. Otherwise, since Jesus was of the Jewish nation, you’d be imputing guilt on Him, which I don’t think you’d want to do.

Jack August 16, 2006 at 4:05 pm

The Jews are no longer Gods chosen people as they rejected Our Lord as Messiah, unless of course you belive the documents of Vatican II as well as the actual teachings of Cardinal Ratzinger who published that the Jews waiting for the Messiah to come is no different than that of us Catholics waiting for the second coming. Is that Catholicism or false ecumenism??????
And the church of today wants converts and even those born to the faith to adhere to the true teachings when the Pope says that Jews are all fine and dandy and can even be saved if they reject our Lord?

Jeb Protestant August 16, 2006 at 4:08 pm

JohnD,
Whoeverever said every last Jew is guilty for the death of the Jesus? But God sent the Romans to destroy Jerusalem 67-73AD because of the unbelief of the Jews. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t innocent people killed.

Jack August 16, 2006 at 4:08 pm

As a comment to my post above-I hope that it does not land me in the Mel Gibson (who after all was a marked man by the Bnai Brith and Foxman and had all rights to be somewhat paranoid even under the influence) “are you Jewish” realm of anti-semitism, as it seems we spend so much of our time trying to prove we are not anti this or that than just speaking the truth
God bless you all

Jeb Protestant August 16, 2006 at 4:09 pm

Jack,
I know Ratzinger has his liberal side (higher critical views of the Bible for example), but when did he say that?

JohnD August 16, 2006 at 4:11 pm

Jack,
Why do you say “us” Catholics if you reject Catholic teaching?
//Pope says that Jews are all fine and dandy and can even be saved if they reject our Lord//
Blatant misrepresentation of Catholic teaching. I defy you to find any Pope teaching what you wrote.
Try this instead:
http://www.catholic.com/library/Salvation_Outside_the_Church.asp

Anonymous August 16, 2006 at 4:20 pm

I find it very interesting how the White House interpretation of Iranian Pres. Ahmadinejad’s statement to “blow Israel off the face of the map”.
in the same speech, the German translators interpreted this as “never unless there is a new regime / government to negotiate with.”
Bush-speak all the way and we ALL fell for the hate / fear mongering coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
When the Iranian Pres. sent Bush a 13 page letter, all Bush did was criticize it and say it did nothing to address the Iranian Nuclear issue.
He did not answer the letter or address the 80 % of the letter which asked Bush how he has a Christian could support such war and bloodshed instead of using America’s vast resources to promote peace. IF he said he followed the teachings of Jesus, how could he act the way he does?
I wish I could hear Bush’s answer to this also.
RE: Israel – God alone knows His holy and eternal purposes regarding the Holy land and the Jewish people.

Puzzled August 16, 2006 at 4:38 pm

There are indications that 4/5 of all Jews converted to Christianity in the first few centuries of the Church, J.E.B.
We are but a wild olive branch grafted onto the domestic olive tree. If the natural branch could be cut off for us, how much more so can it be grafted on again?

Jeb Protestant August 16, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Puzzled,
Even if true (which I doubt), what does that have to do with unbelieving Israel? Paul makes clear in Romans that olive tree is spiritual Israel.

John August 16, 2006 at 5:06 pm

Jeb and Jack,
Look at the following chronology, and see if this makes sense:
Deut 28:64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.
Deut 28:65-66 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life.
Luke 21:24 And they will be put to death with the sword, and will be taken as prisoners into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be crushed under the feet of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles are complete.
Zech 7:14 I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.
Isa 27:6 In the days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill the world with fruit.
Zech 14:2 I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped.
Zech 14:3-4 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.
Zech 12:9-10 On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
Joel 1:1-2 In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.
Romans 11:25-26 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”
The interesting question here is where do you insert Jeb’s reference:
Matthew 21:43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
This peice would seem to be relevant in the middle somewhere, but clearly God has a plan for the Jews after 70 a.d., involving as we see in Romans 11:25-26 -“…and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”
This may not have occurred yet (probably hasn’t), but will…
This conforms nicely with Jimmy’s thesis, and the Pope’s position, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church…irrespective of V2 or other reformist concerns you may have…at least from my perspective.
Peace,
John

Augustine August 16, 2006 at 7:27 pm

Nostra Aetate does not teach that the Jews are still in any way, shape, or form part of the “elect” of God. I realize that like most other Vatican II documents, one can apply just about any “interpretation” to it because it is so vaguely written. However, it can only be seen in light the bull Cantate Domino: “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”
Also, the bull Unum Sanctum: “It is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
And the Fourth Lateran Council: “One, moreover, is the universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.” In other words, there is no separate plan for the Jews other than to obey Christ and subject themselves to the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Pope Pius XII supports a supercessionist view in his encyclical Mystici Corporis (see paragraphs 25-33).
Supercessionism has always been the view of the Catholic Church. No theologian, Pope, or council can ever change that because it is settled doctrine infallibly defined almost 800 years ago (and has been taught since the very institution of the Church) and has been consistently reinforced ever since then.
Just as God made the gift of salvation available to all through Christ, yet most of humanity rejects it, so was the gift first offered to the Jews, who had the benefit of the Prophets and Tradition to lead them to Christ and yet most of them still disbelieved. The covenant with natural Israel is fully predicated on the acceptance of their King Jesus Christ. They have no more earthly king and no more earthly priests. They have only one Priest, King, and Redeemer. Israel’s election is because God would so honor this people to bear the Christ. Once they reject Christ, their election continues to remain in Christ. Those who are outside of Christ are not of the elect.
Citing a ton of Bible verses is useless without considering the 2000 year Tradition of the Church, and this issue is not in question at all (unless you are in denial that the Church taught anything prior to Vatican II). We are not Protestants who willy-nilly quote every scripture that agrees with our presuppositions and interpret them according to our whims. We have the guidance of the Third Person of the Trinity Himself in the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Augustine August 16, 2006 at 7:33 pm

John,
You must realize that when St. Paul writes of Israel, he is referring to the Church (the “Israel of God”), not necessarily the children of Israel (unless of course, they unite themselves to the Church).
The entire Jewish system was destroyed within a few years after the institution of the Church. There is no more temple, no more sacrifices, no more earthly king of the Jews. And there never will be because all of it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In Old Testament terms, they have apostasized and “cut themselves off” from God’s People. They can no longer be considered “Israel” and no longer be considered “God’s People.”

J.R. Stoodley August 16, 2006 at 11:00 pm

We have a lot of truth being written here and not a lot of error. The thing is, we need to hold on to both sides of the truth, even when there is some tension between them. On the one hand there is no salvation outside the Church and the Jews who persist in their rejection of Christ are not amoung the elect in the sense of those he has called out of the world into his Mystical Body.
On the other hand we can not judge the culpability of any person for their not being in the Church so if they are not responsible for their imperfect faith and lack of full inclusion in the Church then they may still ultimately go to heaven.
The covenent with Abraham is perpetual and thus the Jews remain God’s special people in a way, but the purpose of their nation was to bring the Messiah into the world, and in these last days His true elect are the members of His Church, wich it is absolutely necessary for all to be a part of (though again invincible ignorance can prevent them from rejecting God completely by their refusal and thus they may not go to Hell).
John,
Many of the OT passages you quoted certainly seem to directly prophesy more iminant events like the Babylonian Captivity and ultimatly point to Christ and his saving us from sin. That is how OT prophesy often works, pointing to an iminant reality but more importantly to Christ. Of course some prophesies refer to the Second Comming and the events leading up to it. I suppose the refounding of Israel could be a first stem towards this final coming, but they will have to convert to Christianity first.
By the way, I hope you were not referring to me as “the ‘blow Israel off the face of the map’ lobby” that was silenced by Jimmy. I never said Israel should be destroyed, but rather have repeatedly said I believe that regardless of how it was founded and the lack of a relevent historical or religious justification for its founding, it is now a legitimate nation with the right to defend itself.
I was actually quite pleased with Jimmy’s post and it is almost exactly what I thought before, except that I did not know the issue of whether the Jews retained any religious right to the land was still open to debate. That fact makes me more open to the idea that they retain this right, which could possibly justify any invasion of the land between the Nile and Euphrades. However, I have yet to hear a convincing arguement that this is the case, and the general thrust of Catholic Tradition seems to me to be against the idea. Also I find it completely incompatible with the New Testament to suggest (and I don’t think you have but some do) that the Jews have a mandate to build another temple.

J.R. Stoodley August 16, 2006 at 11:08 pm

Augustine,
By the way, while in a certain sense you may be right that there is no more “earthly” king of the Jews, there is a human one.
As I recall, according to Pius XI’s encyclical promoting the Solemnity of Christ the King (Quas Primas I think) Jesus Christ is not only King because he is God but is the human, legal king of Israel as well.

Mary August 17, 2006 at 6:43 am

Tradition to lead them to Christ and yet most of them still disbelieved.
Err — most?
Do we have any idea of the numbers?

Jack August 17, 2006 at 7:21 am

Cardinal Ratzinger Link from his interview with the Jewish Press where he states that the Jews wait for Messiah is not in vain
http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=5649#top

John August 17, 2006 at 8:53 am

J.R.,
No, I wouldn’t include you in the “blow Israel off the face of the map lobby”. What suprised me was that so many folks (apparently many of them Catholic) were characterizing Israel as an evil entity (both historically and presently), and empathizing if not sympathizing, with the Iran backed terrorists in the region (recall Iran’s President’s recent comments regarding the destruction of Israel).
If you review many of the comments in the “What’s Happening in the Middleast” thread from July 18, 2006, you’ll see what I mean.
I think Augustine makes several factually correct statements, but kind of misses Jimmy’s, yours, and my points on this topic…
Yes…I believe salvation through the church is required (the church being the grafted entity of Gods chosen people throughout the ages). It’s also possible, as I think Jimmy points out, that persons not aware of the Gospel, or having limited access to, or understanding of Christ’s redemptive message and the church, may be accepted through Christ as one of the elect. Ultimately, no man makes the decisions re the redemption of others, save one…Christ stands at that gate, and lets pass whom he deems fit. This I think may include Jews, proto-Christians, Muslims, or whomever Jesus finds favor with…not knowing Christ until standing at that gate might seem to be good reason for, if Christ chose, an extension of his infinite mercy!
Jimmy’s comments support this idea:
“We have to be given sufficient evidence for its truth before we are morally bound to accept it.”
Jimmy goes on to quote Hebrews:
“as regards election they [the jews] are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Heb. 11:28-29).”
Augustine (the poster not the Saint) argues from the Nostra Aetate, that it does “not teach that the Jews are still in any way, shape, or form part of the “elect” of God.” This seems to be in direct contradiction with the passage from Hebrews cited above.
Furthermore, A’s contention that “Israel,” as I cite in my previous post in Joel and Romans, refers to the Church and not the Jewish nation, is simply incorrect. The Joel passage I cite refers to the “People of Israel” being scattered [in the diaspora], and their lands being divided (ergo…probably not the “Israel of God” or “Church”).
The Romans passage I cite, states:
“that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”
The hardening of Israel, I believe, refers to the Jewish nation, and is differentiated from the Gentiles. The last sentence indicates the ungodliness from Jacob shall be removed, suggesting the people of Jacob (arguably the Jewish people) are returned to God’s favor. The verbiage, “and thus all Israel will be saved,” I would agree, refers to the Jewish people after having been grafted back into the tree of the Church. To me, this clearly demonstrates the Jews are still the elect of God, their time is coming, and we should look forward to that time of their reconciliation with the Church. Jews and Christians, and other gentiles not a part of the Church post-reconciliation, as has been suggested, would not be a part of God’s elect.
I don’t think this conflicts at all with Jimmy’s thesis, but may not be in direct agreement with Augustine’s post in some areas.
With that said, I again qualify my comments as a brand new Catholic in training, and would welcome critiques, comments, etc.
Peace,
John

David B. August 17, 2006 at 9:07 am

Anonymous Poster,
I really mean it when I ask: Are you an Iranian blogger?
BTW, in your response, please remember DA RULZ.
Thank you.

Anonymous August 17, 2006 at 4:04 pm

David,
no, I am a European-American (white) from Nebraska.

David B. August 17, 2006 at 4:15 pm

The reason I asked is because you seem to respect the Iranian ‘President’, even though said president is giving aid and comfort to the violent and murderous groups who are causing the bloodshed you are blame Bush for.

BenYachov(Jim Scott IV) August 19, 2006 at 1:55 pm

In the book GOD AND THE WORLD, on pg. 150, the Jewish interviewer asked Cardinal Ratzinger: “Does that mean the Jews will have to recognize the Messiah(Christ) or ought to do so?”
Ratzinger replied: “That is what we believe. That does not mean that we will have to force Christ upon them but that we should share in the patience of God. We also have to try to live our life together in Christ in such a way that it no longer stands in opposition to them or would be unacceptable to them but so that it felicitates their own approach to it. It is in fact still our belief as Christians that Christ is the Messiah of Israel.”
So it’s clear that you misunderstood Ratzinger, Jack. He does believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel(ie. the Jews), and that Jews must believe in Him.
When he says that their waiting for the Messiah is not in vain, it means that their hope for a redeeming Messiah is not in vain. It does not mean that it is okay to reject Jesus and expect another messiah to come.
BTW, an article written by people who are not Catholic and do not have an understanding of Catholic teaching which cites the Cardinal in a third-hand way without context is hardly a reliable source. If you read that article Jack linked to above, if the pontifical biblical document allegedly taught that Jews don’t have to believe in Jesus, why did the rabbi cited at the end of the article question whether it in fact taught that?

Michael John TA August 19, 2006 at 8:06 pm

Bishop Andreas Abouna was consecrated an auxiliary of Baghdad in Rome on January 6, 2003, and shortly afterwards we sat down for an interview in which he voiced concern about the possibility of a Christian exodus from Iraq in the wake of a then-hypothetical U.S.-led invasion.
Today, Abouna says, his worst fears have been realized.
“The constitution and the political developments of the past 18 months or so have not helped at all. It is just a theory,” he told the German agency Aid to the Church in Need this week. “Everyone is asking: when will the violence stop? They want to rest. They cannot live like this — everyday there are these terrible things.”
As a result, Abouna said, the Christian population of Iraq has been cut in half over the last three years, from an estimated 1.3 million to 600,000. In Baghdad, he said, historically home to a disproportionately high number of Christian residents, up to 75 percent have left — some to safer zones in the north of the country, some abandoning Iraq altogether.
“When so many are leaving from a small community like ours, you know that it is dangerous — dangerous for the future of the Church in Iraq,” Abouna said.
Iraqi Christians who took refuge in Syria, Jordan and Turkey and have attempted to return, Abouna said, are generally disheartened by what they’ve found.
Abouna indicated that Christians in Iraq are not necessarily being targeted more than other groups, but given that they were already a small community facing an uncertain future, instability and difficult living conditions have added to the demoralization.
Sadly, Abouna said, many of the Christians who remain are simply too poor or too weak to leave.
“What we are hearing now is the alarm bell for Christianity in Iraq,” Abouna said.

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