Pope asks Middle East governments to protect Christians

Peter Kenny
Worshippers attend a mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church in Al-Darbasiyah, Hasakah province November 13, 2013. Due to the clashes in north-eastern Syria, many Christians have fled the area seeking safety elsewhere, activists say. Picture taken November 13, 2013.Photo: REUTERS / Stringer
Pope Francis has said he is concerned about the safety of Christians in the Middle East and he has urged Middle Eastern governments to protect them from violence.
“The Bishop of Rome will not rest so long as there are men and women, of any religion, affected in their dignity, deprived of life’s basic necessities, robbed of a future, forced to the status of refugees and displaced persons.”

“Today, along with the pastors of the Churches of the East, we make an appeal: that the right of all [people] to a decent life and to freely profess their faith be respected.”

The pontiff was speaking in Rome on Thursday at the main gathering for patriarchs and archbishops from the congregation for Eastern Churches.

“I’m very worried about living conditions faced by Christians who are suffering from conflicts and tensions in many areas of the Middle East,” said Francis.

“So often Egypt, Iraq and Syria and other areas in the Holy Land ooze tears.”

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The Pope was speaking at a time when more and more Christians are fleeing violence that has gripped Syria and Iraq and is threatening to spill over into Lebanon, where there is a significant Christian minority.

The French-based Oeuvre d’Orient Catholic association says there are an between 10 to 13 million Christians in Middle Eastern region.

They comprise 36 percent of Lebanon’s population, 10 percent of Egypt’s, five percent of Syria’s and two percent of the population of Iraq.

In the Syrian Civil War Christians are often caught in the crossfire of fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

They sometimes they are targeted directly by Islamist extremists for being seen as sympathetic to the regime President Bashar al-Assad, who is also from a religious minority, the Alawites.

The number of Christians in Iraq plummeted since the 2003 war, from more than 1.5 million to only a few hundred thousand.

Britain’s first Minister of Faith, and the first Muslim to serve in the UK Cabinet, spoke at Georgetown University on November 15 about how recent militant extremism in the Middle East is having a huge impact on Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians as well as other faiths in the region.

“The problem with extremism isn’t too much religion, it is too little religion. The people who kill in the name of Allah or whatever god lack a basic understanding of their own faith,” Warsi said.

“For myself, a Muslim mother, I teach my children to be good people, and then show them that Islam is a good basis for that kind of behavior, but I don’t indoctrinate them in the way that some people indoctrinate their children. I want my children to be good people first, and then hopefully good Muslims.”

She urged countries such as Pakistan to “set the tone” for tolerance of minority religious groups.

Warsi told BBC Radio, “I am concerned that the birthplace of Christianity, the parts of the world where Christianity first spread, is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving and those that are remaining feeling persecuted.”