21 August 2017
In this image from February, women hold placards as they take part in a protest demanding better living conditions at the refugee camp of the former international Helliniko airport in Athens, Greece. Pope Francis has released a message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, underscoring the Church’s responsibility to extend aid. (photo: CNS/Yannis Kolesidis, EPA)
Pope releases message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees — 14 January 2018 — was released by the Vatican on Monday. In the message the Holy Father says that providing aid to migrants and refugees is a “great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities...”
Cardinal Parolin discusses goals of upcoming Russia visit (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, who is on a 4-day visit to Russia, gave a wide-ranging interview with the Russian state news agency TASS, ahead of his arrival on Monday...
Jets destroy ISIS convoy in Syria (BBC) Dozens of so-called Islamic State (IS) militants are reported to have been killed in a Russian air strike near the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour. Russia’s defense ministry said at least 200 jihadists had died after its air force targeted a convoy of about 20 4x4’s, armored vehicles and tanks. It did not say when the strike took place, but a monitoring group reported that a convoy had been hit last Friday...
Peace returns to Minya village after skirmishes between Muslims, Copts (The Egypt Independent) Calm returned to Ezbat al-Forn, of Abyouha village in Abu Qurqas city of Minya governorate on Monday, following skirmishes Sunday between Christians and Muslims. According to head of Abu Qurqas city council, Brigadier Mohamed Salah, fights broke out on Sunday after some Coptic citizens in the village of Ezbat al-Forn tried to pray at the house of a citizen under the guidance of a priest, prompting some Muslims to intercept for not possessing a license...
Indian prime minister’s Independence Day address leaves Christians ‘disappointed’ (The Tablet) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence day address has done little to reassure the country’s Catholic population, as numbers of targeted attacks against Christians continues to rise. Addressing the nation from the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on 15 August, Modi declared that India is “the land of Gandhi and Buddha, we have to move forward taking everyone along...We have to successfully carry it forward and that is why in the name of faith, violence cannot be allowed.” Yet Christians have said the Prime Minister failed to denounce the targeted sectarian violence that minority Christians and Muslims have been subjected to under under Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, known for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda...
Pope encourages Methodists and Waldensians to walk path to full Christian unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged Methodist and Waldensian Churches to continue to walk together with the Catholic Church on the path towards full Christian unity, pointing out that in a world lacerated by violence and fear it is all the more important to live and to convey the Christian message of welcome and fraternity...
18 August 2017
The Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office is marking the 100th anniversary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches with a stamp featuring details from the chapel in the congregation’s office. The stamp will be released 7 September. Read more about the congregation’s anniversary here.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office)
18 August 2017
Syrians who were staying at a temporary shelter in Jibrin, on the outskirts of Aleppo, are transported to areas currently controlled by the Syrian regime in eastern Aleppo on 16 August 2017. An advisor to Syria’s president says the war is nearly over.
(photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Assad advisor says war nearing an end (Reuters) An advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the six-year war is nearly over as foreign states cut backing for rebels, and vowed the government would confront any “illegitimate” forces, whether Turkish or American. Bouthaina Shaaban said the fact that Syria was staging the Damascus International Fair for the first time in the war “sends a message that the war has ended ... and we are at the start of the path towards reconstruction...”
Mosul faces struggles with reconstruction (BBC) “My husband is buried over there!” says Ishar, pointing towards a pile of rubble where her house once stood. Draped in a dark blue shawl and a long black abaya, the 32-year-old mother-of-four stumbles through the ruins of the Old City in the west of Mosul, which was recaptured by Iraqi government forces in July after an almost nine-month battle with so-called Islamic State...
Deepening drought hits Ethiopian herders (Reuters) Livestock are dying in parts of Ethiopia that are overwhelmingly reliant on their milk as deepening drought pushes up the number of districts in need of life-saving aid by 19 percent, according to a report released on Thursday...
Indian Catholics in Philadelphia celebrate heritage (CatholicPhilly.com) It was Indian Catholic Heritage Day on 12 August, sponsored by the Indian American Catholic Association of Greater Philadelphia and celebrated at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Northeast Philadelphia. The congregation was mostly India-born adults and their American-born children, many in the colorful festive garments of their native land. For the most part they were members of the Syro-Malabar Rite Catholic Church, and the Syro-Malankara Rite Catholic Church, with a smattering of Roman-rite Catholics, all with a common heritage...
17 August 2017
This image from the Catalan Atlas depicts Marco Polo traveling to the East in the 13th century,
when Mongols conquered much of Asia.
(photo: by Abraham Cresques, Atlas catalan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
The decline of Christianity in the Middle East did not occur over night. It took over a millennium for Christians to go from being a slight majority of the population of the Middle East to being 5 percent at present.
When did it start? We see the beginnings of decline by the 9th century. Initially, the Muslim conquerors discouraged the People of the Book, Christians, from converting to Islam. The benefits which the conquerors enjoyed were initially not given to non-Arab converts to Islam. But as the caliphate developed into a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, those privileges were granted to all converts, providing incentives for Christians to convert to Islam.
Under the Abbasid Caliphs (750-1258) there were often dialogues/debates in which Christian and Muslim theologians debated the superiority of their own faiths. By the 9th century, though, we notice subtle and not so subtle changes taking place. Since many of these debates have survived in written form, we can follow their development. (You can read more about that here.) Although for the most part, there was no violence exerted on Christians to convert to Islam, subtler and perhaps more powerful incentives were at work: social status, political status and financial advantage. While there does not seem to have been any mass conversion to Islam, the decline had begun.
At the beginning of the 13th century, nomadic groups in north central Asia began a migration and conquest. In 1258, Mongols conquered Baghdad and brought the Abbasid Caliphate to an end. By 1300, they had conquered China, all of Central and Western Asia and parts of Eastern Europe. Until the advent of ISIS, the Middle East had not experienced wanton destruction such a scale since the Mongol invasions. The infrastructure of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious caliphate was destroyed — and with it, most of the Christian infrastructure in the region.
To be sure, there would not be a permanent vacuum in the Middle East. Smaller groups of Muslims formed Khanates and Sultanates which often competed with each other for the position which the Abbasid Caliphate had possessed and which was now gone forever.
Even towards the end of the caliphate, one notices the presence of Turkic people in positions of power. After the demise of the caliphate, more and more of these groups move into the Middle East and begin to establish governments.
One of these groups, the Oghuz Turks, was to begin the most important empire in Europe and Asia for almost 600 years. The Osmanli family formed a dynasty, the Ottomans, which would conquer the entire Middle East and much of Central Europe until its dissolution in 1923. The Ottoman Empire was inspired by the ghazi or raiding tradition and engaged in almost constant raids against their non-Muslim and Muslim neighbors.
In many ways, the situation of Christians and non-Ottoman Muslims under the Ottomans was similar. Both were subjects. However, there were several factors which made the situation of Christians worse. Christians were becoming a minority lacking the “demographic depth” of the Arab Muslims, making any recovery very difficult. The Crusades (roughly 11th to 13th centuries) and the later constant Ottoman attacks in Christian central Europe gave Christians in the Ottoman Empire the air of being “the foreign enemy” or, worse, a “fifth column.” Forced conversions of Christians to Islam had been rare. However, the Janissaries, the Ottoman shock troops, were originally manned by young Christian boys kidnapped from (mostly) Balkan countries, forced to convert to Islam and then trained as the personal troops of the Sultan.
Relations between Christians and Ottoman Turks are memorialized in several Catholic holy days. The Feast of the Name of Mary (12 September) commemorates the defeat of the Ottoman armies at Vienna in 1683 and the Feast of the Holy Rosary (7 October) commemorates the Christian victory at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. It’s no accident that these holy days are linked to battles; the Ottoman Empire was in an almost constant state of war with Eastern Europe until the end of the 17th century.
The time of the Umayyad and Abbasid Christian-Muslim dialogues was over. For the Christians in the West, Islam — in the form of the Ottoman Empire — was not an opportunity for dialogue, but a threat. Christians in the East were considered objects of suspicion — sympathizers of the Christian powers in Europe — and not people for dialogue.
Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia never really recovered from the Mongol invasions and destruction. Any opportunity to recover was greatly diminished under the Ottomans. Christians went from being high officials and respected scholars under the caliphates to being a poor, shrinking and suspect minority under the Ottomans.
As we will see, the events of the 20th and 21st centuries would make the situation of Christians in the Middle East even worse.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia: Introduction
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 1: In the Beginning
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 2: Christians and Muslims Co-exist
17 August 2017
In this image from 2013, Slovak Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, prays at the Mass opening a plenary meeting of the congregation. The congregation is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a Vatican office dedicated to supporting the Eastern Catholic churches and ensuring their liturgies, spirituality and traditions continue to be part of the universal Catholic Church. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
The Vatican is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches and strives to ensure that the universal Catholic Church treasures its diversity, including in liturgy, spirituality and even canon law.
Coincidentally established five months before the Russian Revolution, the congregation continually has had to face the real persecution and threatened existence of some of the Eastern churches it was founded to fortify.
Until 1989-90, many of the Byzantine Catholic churches — including, notably, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of all the Eastern churches — were either outlawed or severely repressed by the communist governments of Eastern Europe, said Archbishop Cyril Vasil, a member of the Slovak Catholic Church and secretary of the congregation.
No sooner had the Soviet bloc disintegrated and once-persecuted churches begun to flourish, then the first Gulf War broke out. And then there was the invasion of Iraq. And the turmoil of the Arab Spring across North Africa. Then the war in Syria. And Israeli-Palestinian tensions continue. The Chaldean, Syriac Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Melkite and Maronite churches have paid a high price.
“In all of this, the Eastern churches suffer the most because they find themselves crushed in the struggle between bigger powers, both local and global,” Archbishop Vasil said in mid-August. Even those conflicts that are not taking direct aim at Christians in the Middle East make life extremely difficult for them, and so many decide to seek a more peaceful life for themselves and their families outside the region.
One impact of the “exodus,” he said, is the greater globalization of the Catholic Church. While 100 years ago, when the Congregation for Eastern Churches was established, only a few Eastern churches had eparchies — dioceses — outside their traditional homelands, today they can be found in Australia, North and South America and scattered across Western Europe.
“In Sweden today, a third of the Christians are Chaldeans or Armenians,” he added. “In Belgium and Holland, where Catholicism has suffered a decline, communities are reborn with the arrival of new Christians, which is a reminder of the importance of immigrants bringing their faith with them.”
In countries like Italy, where thousands of Ukrainians and Romanians have come to work, they add ritual diversity to the expressions of Catholicism already found there, he said.
The growing movement of people around the globe means that part of the congregation’s job is to work with the Latin-rite bishops and dioceses, “sensitizing church public opinion” to the existence, heritage, needs and gifts of the Eastern Catholics moving into their communities, the archbishop said. Where an Eastern Catholic hierarchy has not been established, the local Latin-rite bishop has a responsibility “to accept, welcome and give respectful support to the Eastern Catholics” as their communities grow and become more stable.
The idea, Archbishop Vasil said, is to help the local Latin-rite bishop seriously ask himself, “How can I help them free themselves of me and get their own bishop?”
Although it has only 26 employees — counting the prefect, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, and the receptionist — the Congregation for Eastern Churches works with 23 Eastern Catholic churches and communities, fulfilling the same tasks that for Latin-rite Catholics fall to the congregations for bishops, clergy, religious, divine worship and education. It supports the Pontifical Oriental Institute, which offers advanced degrees in Eastern Christian liturgy, spirituality and canon law. And it also coordinates the work of a funding network known by the Italian acronym ROACO; the U.S.-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Pontifical Mission for Palestine are part of that network.
The congregation’s approach in some areas is different than its Latin-rite counterparts because it follows the Eastern Catholic traditions and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. For instance, some of the Eastern churches ordain married men to the priesthood.
And, like the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Eastern Churches helps prepare the nomination of bishops by Pope Francis, but only for dioceses outside the Eastern churches’ traditional homeland. The Eastern Catholic synods of bishops elect new bishops closer to home and submit their names to the pope for his assent.
But the congregation’s primary concern is the survival of the Eastern Catholic churches, which is an issue not only in places where Eastern Catholics are threatened with death or driven from their homelands by war.
Archbishop Vasil said others risk losing their Eastern Catholic identity through assimilation.
Some of the blame, at least before the Second Vatican Council, lies with the Vatican and the Latin-rite hierarchy and religious orders, who, for decades encouraged Eastern Catholics to be more like their Latin-rite brothers and sisters.
Vatican II urged a recovery of the Eastern Catholic traditions, liturgy and spirituality. But, especially for Eastern Catholics living far from their churches’ homelands, uprooting vestiges of the “Latinization” can prove difficult, Archbishop Vasil said.
Using his own Slovak Catholic Church as an example, he said parishes have been asked beginning 1 September to return to the Eastern Catholic tradition of administering baptism, chrismation (confirmation) and the Eucharist together at the same liturgy, even for infants. In Slovakia, as in some parishes in North America, Eastern Catholics adopted the Latin-rite church’s practicing of withholding the Eucharist until a child is about 7 and then celebrating the child’s first Communion.
Especially for Eastern Christians whose ancestors immigrated two or three or four generations ago, the archbishop said, maintaining their specific identity as Chaldean, Ruthenian or Syro-Malankara Catholics is a challenge.
“The greatest danger in the coming years is extinction,” Archbishop Vasil said. “We don’t know what history has in store for us, but we must make sure we have done everything possible to avoid this danger.”
17 August 2017
Catholics attend a Divine Liturgy at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Churcn in Centralia, Pennsylvania. The church has been named a pilgrimage holy site by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine.
(photo: CNS/Jacqueline Dormer, Republican-Herald)
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church sits on a serene Pennsylvania mountain and overlooks the abandoned, desolate borough of Centralia.
The town is a memory, but the church still serves a thriving parish family, with congregants driving to the hilltop on Sundays and holy days from communities throughout the area.
The church and the grounds surrounding it will be the site of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia’s holy pilgrimage on 27 August, the eve of the feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.
The pilgrimage begins at noon with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy with Archbishop Stefan Soroka, head of the Philadelphia archeparchy and the metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. The homilist will be the Rev. John M. Fields, an archpriest of the archeparchy.
After the Divine Liturgy, a procession will take place from the church with a replica of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv, where it will be placed in the outside chapel.
The town of Centralia was destroyed by an underground mine fire, which began in 1962 and resulted in the relocation of almost all the residents and the demolition of all but a few buildings. But Assumption Church, capped with its three onion-shaped blue domes, remains on the hilltop, the same as when the first services were held there in 1912. The parish was founded on 15 August 1911.
On 28 August 2011, Archbishop Soroka was the main celebrant and homilist when the parish celebrated the centennial of its founding.
“The main thing is that I want you to hear beyond the words,” the archbishop told the congregation. “This church is standing after 100 years, despite the mine fire and the town leaving, to deliver a message to the world: We are to be like your namesake, the Mother of God, to be servants to others.”
“After 100 years, you are all doing the work the founders of the church wanted to do as well, you are giving service to others, coming together in hard times and good,” he said.
During his historic visit in November 2015, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, marveled at the continuing presence of the church in Centralia.
He also noted how this coal region parish fostered the vocations of four priests and three religious sisters.
As a result of his visit and with Archbishop Soroka’s encouragement, the place was designated a holy site of pilgrimage.
Archbishop Sviatoslav “felt a sense of true holiness which pervades the entire church property,” said an announcement about the upcoming pilgrimage. “His desire is for all people of faith to come and experience this holiness, sanctity and serenity as pilgrims to this holy place on the mountain.”
The first pilgrimage took place in 2016 and the Rev. Michael Hutsko, Assumption’s pastor, has invited all people of faith to join with Archbishop Soroka and clergy for a day of prayer and spiritual blessings 27 August.
In the afternoon after the Divine Liturgy, an opportunity for confession will be available for the pilgrims at various locations throughout the church grounds. A 2 p.m. living rosary will be prayed before the historic and jeweled 18th-century copy of the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv.
Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church in Shamokin, will provide a reflection at the conclusion of the rosary. The icon and relics of Blessed Mykolay Charnetsky (1884-1959) will reside in the church for veneration throughout the day. The Redemptorist priest was martyred for the faith.
At 4:30 p.m., pilgrims will gather at Assumption’s outdoor chapel for a candlelight procession to the church for the celebration of a “moleben,” or service of supplication, to Mary, with Archbishop Soroka as the main celebrant and homilist. At the service’s conclusion, there will be prayers for healing and anointing with holy oils &kdquo;for the healing of soul and body.”
17 August 2017
Indian motorists and residents wade through rain water flooded streets of a low lying area in Bangalore on 15 August 2017. (photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)
Heavy rains continue to batter parts of India; thousands displaced (The Indian Express) Heavy rains, inundation, and floods continue to wreak havoc in India, with the death toll rising in Assam, Bihar and West Bengal this week. Thousands have been affected by the situation, with many shifted to relief camps and temporary shelters. Train and rail services of the Eastern Railway have also taken a hit, with many lines inundated or damaged in the rains...
New life amid ruins in Mosul’s maternity hospital (Reuters) Al-Khansa Hospital in East Mosul may be a shell of its former self but it is still the city’s main government-run maternity facility. Last month alone, despite severe shortages of medicines and equipment, it delivered nearly 1,400 babies...
Russian Orthodox Church will discuss Ukraine during cardinal’s visit (Crux) Ukraine will be on the agenda when the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, visits Moscow on 20-24 August. Parolin will be the highest-ranking Vatican diplomat to visit Russia since one of his predecessors, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, consecrated Moscow’s Catholic cathedral in 1999...
Tired by war, Syrians seek respite by the sea (CNN) Children splashing in the Mediterranean, young men and women in swimwear smoking hookah — this could be any holiday hot spot, but it’s Latakia, a seaside town in war-torn Syria...
Congregation centennial: Supporting Eastern Catholics against all odds (CNS) The Vatican is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches and strives to ensure that the universal Catholic Church treasures its diversity, including in liturgy, spirituality and even canon law...
India’s Muslims and the price of partition (The New York Times) Seventy years after independence, India’s Muslim population has begun to fear that the dark fantasies of the Muslims led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League in the 1930’s and 1940’s — who fought for the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims — could well be coming true...
16 August 2017
Though settled in Australia, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have not forgotten the traditions of their homeland, such as dance. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we looked at Diversity Down Under, and the vibrant heritage of Eastern Christianity in Australia:
In 1975, the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which ended these racially based immigration policies. Subsequently, the country has seen an influx of non-European immigrants. In addition, the indigenous population has rebounded.
Among these recent arrivals have been Eastern Christians — Armenians and Assyrians; Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite Greek and Ukrainian Greek Catholics; and Coptic, Greek, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Syriac Orthodox — whose small but vibrant communities are developing a multicultural Australia. To learn more, I visited three.
Over a lunch of New Zealand mussels, kangaroo steaks and a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon, Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who prepared the meal with relish, spoke about his small but growing community of Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
“Our liturgy attracts many outsiders, and several hundred have crossed over to join us, especially people wanting to become clergy.”
The Canadian-born bishop is responsible for 34,000 souls scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. Most Ukrainian Greek Catholics, however, live in Melbourne and Sydney.
“There are 1.5 million Latin [Roman] Catholics in Melbourne, and many of our people attend their churches if they are closer to where they live.”
This back-and-forth is representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic experience in Australia, Bishop Peter said, an experience not unlike that of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in North America.
To a large degree, Australia’s Ukrainian Greek Catholics have assimilated, though they remain proud of their cultural heritage.
Check out more in the May 2007 edition of ONE.
16 August 2017
Families affected by flooding are seen in Jakhalabandha, India, on 13 August.
(photo: CNS/Anuwar Hazarika, Reuters)
Rains, floods across South Asia (Vatican Radio) Heavy monsoon rains in parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and India have killed more than 160 people in the last week, officials said on Tuesday, as authorities rushed to rescue those missing or stranded in flooded areas...
India’s Prime Minister denounces violence in the name of religion (Vatican Radio) On India’s 71st Independence Day on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the nation to reject religious violence, after a series of attacks against minorities sparked debate about whether a surge of Hindu nationalism is undermining the country’s secular ideals...
Report: Genocide of Christians in Middle East continues (CNS) The Trump administration renews its commitment to the protection of religious minority groups threatened by the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the preface of the annual State Department report on international religious freedom, released 15 August. “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled,” Tillerson said in a statement. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities...”
Oxfam: 700,000 at risk of starvation in Ethiopia (Voice of America) Food insecurity in the Somali region of Ethiopia has worsened, putting 700,000 people on the verge of starvation, according to Oxfam International. The humanitarian organization says that about 8.5 million people across the country face a high risk of hunger, a 30 percent increase since the beginning of the year...
Syriac patriarch says West has ‘betrayed’ Christian minorities (CNS) The Syriac Catholic patriarch doesn’t mince words about the ongoing violence and unrest in the Middle East. Nor does he shy away from calling out the West for not doing enough to protect Christian minorities. “I can tell you, we’ve been not only abandoned by the Western countries, but even we have been betrayed,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego...
14 August 2017
Prelates pose for a photo on 9 August during a meeting of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of the Middle East at Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Catholic patriarch,
in northern Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, Maronite Patriarchate)
Mideast Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs decried the desperate situation they face as shepherds of churches “whose existence is in real danger.”
They categorized the continued displacement of Christians from the Middle East as “a genocidal project, a humanitarian catastrophe and a plague of the earth’s civilization.”
“The time has come to make a prophetic cry” and to speak “the truth that frees us in the spirit of the Gospel,” the Council of the Eastern Patriarchs said in a statement on 11 August after a meeting in Diman, Lebanon.
“We, the custodians of the ‘small flocks,’ are hurting because of the exodus of Christians from their native lands in the Middle East,” the patriarchs said.
They appealed to the United Nations and to “the states directly concerned with the war in Syria, Iraq and Palestine to stop the wars that have arisen, as are evident in the demolition, killing, displacement, revival of terrorist organizations and the fueling of intolerance and conflicts between religions and cultures.”
They categorized as a “stain on the forehead of the 21st century” the persistence of the situation, “the inability to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region” and “the neglect” of the return of refugees, displaced and uprooted people to their homelands and property “in dignity and justice.”
In a plea to Pope Francis, the prelates asked, “Who else but the Rock of Peter can we resort to?”
“We are ready to heed the call to holiness by following the path of the faithful,” they said, but “we represent churches ... whose existence is in real danger.”
“Only you, Your Holiness, are left to call on the representatives of the people who control the destinies of peoples, to remind them and even to scold them that the continued displacement of Christians from the Middle East is certainly a genocidal project, a humanitarian catastrophe, but a plague of the earth’s civilization.”
The patriarchs expressed the belief that “the heavens must triumph.”
“Our call today is to become the yeast in the dough and a shining light in a world that is thirsty for the life-giving spirit,” they said.
Christians “will remain rooted in the land of our fathers and forefathers, looking forward with ‘hope beyond all hope’ to a future in which we see our ancient heritage characterize our societies as well as the church of the whole East and West.”
The statement included the Christian leaders’ assessments of the countries in the region.
Pointing to Iraq, they said they were pleased about the liberation of Mosul and towns in the Ninevah Plain from the Islamic State, but that they were concerned about the persistence of extremist groups’ “ideology, inflammatory rhetoric and the climate of conflict in this region.”
The patriarchs appealed to local and international leaders “to respect the rights of Christians and other national constituents to determine the future of their country, away from pressures, in order to achieve their fair share of participation in management, employment, political life” and to keep their “historical and geographical status.”
They encouraged the Iraqi faithful to remain in the country to preserve their civilization and help build a new civilian state.
As for “the bloody horrors” in Syria, the patriarchs said “these events must end, and Syria must emerge from it as a strong, prosperous and secure nation.”
“The future is not for violence and war, but for peace and common life ... based on citizenship,” they said. “We will remain wedded to our land in order to build the homeland that we want, a homeland of freedom and dignity.”
The patriarchs said they were following “with great interest the suffering of the Palestinian people as they seek to determine their own destiny and regain their sovereignty over their land.”
They pointed to the “daily harassment” of those who live in Jerusalem and said “the lack of reunification, the continuity of settlement construction and the confiscation of land are the risks to which they are exposed.”
“We know that the economic and security situation has led to the exodus of many of our Christian children from Palestine, but the Holy Land needs to be present, even if some sacrifices are needed in order to reach a political solution in which Jerusalem would be the capital of two peoples and a holy city open to all,” the patriarchs said in their statement.
The delegation of patriarchs met with Lebanese President Michel on 9 August. They asked him to resolve the issue of displaced persons and refugees who have become “a heavy burden and a political, economic, security and social threat to Lebanon.” Between one-quarter and one-third of the population of Lebanon is refugees; more than a million are Syrians.