In the United States, Canada, or Europe, where Christians form the religious majority, it’s strange to consider parts of the world where they are not only uncommon, but also persecuted. They make up just 2% of the population in Israel, where Christianity was born, a number that rises to a mere 5% if you include the whole region known as the Middle East. And those numbers are dwindling. The past few decades’ wars and political oppression have fueled a diaspora that has driven — and continues to drive — many from their ancestral homelands.
Italian photographer Linda Dorigo moved to the region in 2011 to better understand the Christian experience there. She spent the next two and a half years traveling from a base in Beirut to Christian communities in Iran, Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Turkey, and Syria. Dorigo spurned hotels for people’s homes, where she gained greater access to and a deeper understanding of the culture. During her first trip to Iran, she took a five-day pilgrimage into the mountains, spending the night inside one of the oldest churches in the world. “That’s the way in which Christians of the Middle East talk about their history, about their land. It’s something they love to show, but they show it with intimacy,” she told Roads & Kingdoms.
The resulting series Rifugio will be released in book form by Schilt Publishing this spring. Its expressive, high contrast images take their title from the Italian word for refuge; it not only alludes to the closely knit communities wherein Christians of West Asia and North Africa practice their faith, but it also hints at the isolation that fuels local fears and stereotypes about them. “Personally, what I can do as a photojournalist is to try and open small doors about this region, just to make people think,” Dorigo said. “It’s important that we know each other. And if you don’t have the chance to know people directly because you live in a village in the mountains of Italy … you should train your heart and your mind to know better, to know who is the other, because he really is just your brother.”
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