Patriarchs ask faithful to help ‘save Christianity in the Middle East’

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan prayed during an ecumenical service in Washington last week.
Five Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs from the Middle East urged Westerners to take action to help ensure that Christians and other minorities can remain in the region. “Christians are not (just) looking for humanitarian aid. They are looking for humanitarian action, to save Christianity in the Middle East,” Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church says.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – A comprehensive strategy is needed to defeat Islamic State extremism that “threatens the very survival of Christianity.” While driving back the forces of ISIL is tantamount, it is also essential to promote human rights, pluralism and religious freedom in the region.

The panel was part of an inaugural summit, “In Defense of Christians,” a new Washington-based group formed to promote awareness of the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and to lobby U.S. policymakers on their behalf.

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Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch spoke of meeting a Syrian Christian father whose wife and two children had been murdered and whose bodies were thrown down a well. The patriarch also described meeting a Christian boy among 50 families who had fled for their lives and taken refuge in a church in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The boy opened his arms, saying, “We have no place!”

“Is there no place for Christians in the land of their ancestors?” Patriarch Aphrem asked.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, encouraged the international community to take steps to support development projects to help ensure Christians’ ongoing presence in the cradle of Christianity.

“The future is in the hands of those who sow seeds of hope in the hearts of young people and future generations,” he said.

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan called on Muslim leaders to issue a statement “to condemn the atrocities committed against Christians and other minorities” in the Middle East. He also called on “the family of nations” to support religious freedom and the separation of Church and state in the region.

Patriarch Younan had earlier called for the international community to help find a solution that would allow thousands of Christian refugees to return to their homes in northern Iraq and Syria.

“We have the right to live in our own land, the land of our ancestors for millennia . Our forefathers endured persecution and even martyrdom because they were faithful to the Lord Jesus,” he said. “We keep hope in the Lord, who repeated many times in the Bible, ‘Don’t be afraid.’