Seldom has such dazzling headgear gathered in one place. A meeting of Catholic bishops from the Middle East has just ended in Rome. For two weeks, some 180 patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops and bishops of six different churches – Chaldean, Coptic, Syrian, Greek-Melkite, Maronite and Armenian – discussed the challenges facing Christianity with their Latin-rite brothers, with Pope Benedict listening in.

An expanding Israel and the rise of political Islam figured heavily. So too did the emigration of Christians in the region, which has accelerated in the last 15 years to the point where there is a real prospect of Christians disappearing from some parts of the cradle of Christianity. The area known as Dora in Baghdad used to be nicknamed “the Vatican of Iraq”. But the seven churches, seminary and bible college have all closed since 2003. In Iraq, almost every Catholic family knows someone who has been kidnapped or killed. Churches have been car-bombed. No wonder close to half of the 800,000 Iraqi Christians before the US occupation have fled abroad.

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