THE patriarchs of the Middle East met recently to discuss the situations facing Christians in the region, particularly those who have been displaced due to conflict.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai presided over the meeting which was held on January 27.
It concluded with a statement in which the patriarchs urged the international community to help meet the needs of those displaced by conflicts, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The statement also called on governments for help in securing the refugees’ return to their homelands as well as assistance in securing the release of abducted military, civilian personnel and clergymen, particularly two Middle Eastern bishops who were kidnapped in Syria.
On April 22, 2013, Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek-Orthodox Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi were kidnapped by unknown abductors during a humanitarian mission.
There has been no news on their whereabouts.
The patriarchs asked government leaders “to put an end to the war in Syria and Iraq through peaceful means, political negotiations and dialogue among the warring parties; and to block all kind of aid received by terrorist organisations”.
Concluding their statement, the patriarchs of the Middle East called for prayers from the Christian faithful for “establishing just and comprehensive peace in the region and the world”.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil is due to give an address in London’s Houses of Parliament tomorrow (February 9) amid increasing concerns about the future of Christians who escaped from Mosul and Nineveh with no more than the clothes they were wearing.
Kurdish northern Iraq is grappling with the influx of more than 120,000 Christians fleeing Islamic State militants, and Archbishop Warda will go to London to plead their cause.
At the House of Lords event sponsored by human rights campaigner Lord David Alton of Liverpool, Archbishop Warda is expected to describe how he helped spearhead a massive relief operation for Christians and others who fled after ISIS invaded last year.
In the days that followed, Church compounds were turned into tented displacement camps overnight.
Negotiations with the Kurdistan Regional Government resulted in schools and other public buildings being opened up for the displaced who also took shelter in building sites, and anywhere capable of providing cover.
Six months on and with no immediate prospect of a return to their homelands, many of the displaced are now fleeing abroad, prompting growing uncertainty about the survival of Christianity in a country now home to less than 300,000 faithful – down from one million or more before 2003.
The plight of Christians in Erbil was witnessed in December by a delegation from the Church of England and while he is in London Archbishop Warda will give an address to the General Synod.
Archbishop Warda, who will also thank United Kingdom benefactors of charities Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and Iraqi Christians in Need (ICIN) which have provided emergency help, will preach at Mass at Westminster Cathedral on February 11 and give a talk in the cathedral hall afterwards.
ACN, which is prioritising work for Christians from Iraq, is sponsoring temporary PVC homes and gifts for children, including warm clothes, colouring books and pens, and devotional items.
The charity’s biggest project is providing temporary PVC schools – five in the province of Erbil – and three in Dohuk province, northern Kurdistan.
To date, two schools have been built and a third is underway.