The leader of Maronite Catholics in Lebanon has said if the multiple wars in the Middle East do not stop, the region will be emptied of its Christians and Europe will eventually fall to Islam.
Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, who leads the eastern Catholics still aligned with Rome, said in a recent interview with an Italian Catholic news magazine, Famiglia Christiana or Christian Family, the recent waves of immigration into Europe are only the beginning of Islam's expansion into the continent.
Islam will eventually win the territory, he said, for two reasons.
"I have heard many times from Muslims that their goal is to conquer Europe with two weapons: faith and the birth rate," Rai told the magazine.
Christians, he said, are not as committed to their faith as Muslims who are taught every word of Koran and who place great emphasis on the practice of it.
"For them the practice of the faith is essential and fundamental. In Saudi Arabia on Friday, they go to prayer even if they have to use a walking stick. They know the Koran by heart and recite it often. The same is not true for Christians who do not look to the Bible or the teachings of the church."
Second, he said, is that Muslims believe in procreation as a means of expanding the faith – unlike "Christian Europe" and other Christian communities where birthrates have been in decline for decades.
"They [Muslims] believe it is God's will to procreate and that marriage is aimed at this. In the same way, you see that we hardly get married and do not make a lot of children," Rai said. "If they are many, they think they can impose on us."
According to the Pew Research Center, Muslim birth rates in Europe were already steadily increasing at 1 percent per decade.
In countries like Austria, Finland, Ireland, Kosovo, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia and the United Kingdom, Muslims are already outpacing non-Muslim birthrates by more than a full percentage point. By 2030, Muslims likely would have made up 8 percent of the continent's population – hardly enough though to tilt the scales in favor of Islam.
That figure, however, will likely be significantly higher now since hundreds of thousands of migrants have flooded into countries like Germany and France. Some countries, such as Great Britain, have also made allowances for Muslim families where a man has multiple wives.
The average Muslim man in Europe produces three children, but it is unclear, Pew claims, whether Muslim families include just those three children or three children for each wife (Muslims are traditionally allowed up to four wives).
Pew seems to confirm Islam's growth worldwide will likely continue to be related to Muslim birthrates.
"The main reasons for Islam's growth ultimately involve simple demographics. To begin with, Muslims have more children than members of the seven other major religious groups analyzed in the study. Each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, significantly above the next-highest group (Christians at 2.7) and the average of all non-Muslims (2.3). In all major regions where there is a sizable Muslim population, Muslim fertility exceeds non-Muslim fertility," Pew said in a recent study.
"The growth of the Muslim population also is helped by the fact that Muslims have the youngest median age (23 in 2010) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims (30). A larger share of Muslims will soon be at the point in their lives when people begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will accelerate Muslim population growth," Pew also said.
Most of the migrants to Europe from the Middle East are men of military age.
Others dismiss the idea of a Muslim majority in Europe for the foreseeable future. According to one report, Muslims will only make up 10 percent of Europe's population by 2050. That isn't enough to overthrow any country yet, but that figure was also determined prior to the migration crisis.
If eventually faced with choosing between Islam and their new countries, the cardinal said he believes Islam will win there, as well. Muslims, he said, are loyal to Islam first, rather than to culture or to their state. Sunnis are focused toward Islam in Saudi Arabia and Shiites toward Islam in Iran, he said. Muslims, he also said, see Islam as the final step Christians should take on their religious journeys.
"For Muslims, Judaism has been completed and supplanted by Christianity, and it was then completed and replaced by Islam. For them it is only natural for the Christian to pass on to become a Muslim and then to look at this person as a Muslim. In their psyche the Christian is not accepted because a Christian should become a Muslim – that's why they say that Muhammad is the last of the prophets."
Rai also said extremist Muslims also view anything "from the West as Christian per se." That is why Muslims have been targeting Christians for extermination in Syria and Iraq, where many of the Maronite Catholics once lived. Now, he said, most are gone because of persecution.
The Christian population of the region has declined from 14 percent to 4 percent since the wars started and Christians, hidden among the war's refugees, have been targeted for persecution even as they flee the fighting.
"All politics is Western Christian politics [to jihadists]; it is a new crusade. They say that Christians are the leftovers of the Crusades and of Western imperialism and we respond that we are in the land six hundred years before you," Rai said.
In the interview, Rai alleges that Europe has mishandled the waves of migration from North Africa and the Middle East. While he places the blame for the wars squarely on the shoulders of the Islamic State, he said western powers have failed to stop the wars there and exacerbated the migrant crisis.
"The first thing to do to protect Christians in the Middle East is to end the war in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine," Rai said. "European states quarrel with each other about the number of refugees to be admitted but do nothing to end the conflict."
"You have to turn off the tap and ensure that Muslims and Christians will return to their lands," he said, adding that failure to deal with the crisis will leave the entire Middle East devoid of Christians and open only to fundamentalists and terrorist organizations.
"A Middle East without Christians," Rai said, "has no identity."
"This is the place of all divine revelation. It is where Jesus took flesh, died and rose again. It is where the Church was born and began to proclaim the Gospel to the world," he said.
This article was originally published by Christian Examiner.