Pope Francis Meets with Beleaguered Middle East Patriarchs

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Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.
ROME — Pope Francis met with six Catholic patriarchs from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq on Friday to discuss Christian persecution in the region as well as their mass emigration from the Middle East.

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean patriarch of Babylon, told Vatican News that the pope had turned a sympathetic ear to their plight, which includes “persecution, violence, emigration, and fundamentalism.”

“He truly understands our suffering. We talked about our countries, then about our churches,” said the cardinal, who was accompanied by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch; Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria; Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch; Armenian Patriarch Gregoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia; and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch.

In what Italian media referred to as a “summit,” the pope spoke of his desire to visit Iraq, Cardinal Sako said, because conditions are not favorable at the moment: “Maybe at the end of the year we will see if this will be possible.”

Sako said he also appealed to Francis to help the Christians of the East. “We are the roots of Christianity,” he said. “Even if we are a minority, we are like salt, light, we are a gift for the universal Church. We therefore have an important mission and for this we need to hear the encouragement and a word from the pope and the Holy See.”

For his part, Patriarch Younan of Antioch told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the prelates had requested the meeting with the pope because of the “dramatic situation of the Middle East in general, whether in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon,” along with the “migratory flux” that is emptying the region of Christians.

It is “a threat to our survival,” Younan said, adding that the patriarchs had asked the Vatican “to keep defending the cause of all persecuted Christians, all persecuted minorities in the Middle East, where the political situation is not promising for [minorities] and they don’t have the means to defend themselves and provide safety for their communities.”

Patriarch Younan also urged people “to help Christians stay in their homeland. For that, we need more deeds than words.”