His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch was welcomed to Archbishop’s House by The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, at a press conference about persecuted Christians worldwide with particular focus on Syria and Lebanon on 16 October. The role of his visit to London is to appeal to the heads of state in the Arab world to appeal for peace in the region and to ‘help Syria, not just Syria’s Christians’.
The Patriarch provided a powerful testimony in which he spelled out the reality of the war, describing the Syrian situation as a “bloody Way of the Cross” where “no place is safe” and human rights and citizenship have disappeared. He described how the civil war had affected all people, not just religious Christians but secular people and people of all religions. To demonstrate the plight of Christians, he told us the story of a priest whose two brothers were kidnapped in July 2012 who remain unaccounted for.
He concluded his testimony with three simple points. “We must be together (Christians and Muslims) for the future of the Arab world and Syria, we can be together for the future of the Arab world and Syria and we’d like to be together (Christians and Muslims) in the future of the Arab world and Syria”. On the topic of military intervention from the West, the Patriarch said Christians needed action, not protection so he was against any intervention.
The Patriarch was joined by Sister Hanan Youssef, a Good Shepherd Sister in Lebanon who has been working at grassroots level to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Sister Hanan also provided the gathered journalists with a moving testimony about her experience on the ground in Lebanon, a country flooded with refugees. She runs a dispensary clinic in a Muslim area where help is provided whatever a person’s religion – she said the sign on the front reads: and that they deal with a variety of healthcare and social problems, ranging from trauma and anxiety to complex medical assistance. Her words were familiar with various news reports of the crisis in Syria; people arrive with nothing fleeing the war zones, they are poor and desperate and they have all experienced loss or trauma.
Both the Patriarch and Sister Hanan appealed to the Western world through ACN and other networks to help them in their pursuit of peace through dialogue to end the worst humanitarian disaster this century. Calling on their Christian faith, they told us to continue ‘to bear witness’ at home and to remember Christ was a uniting force that brought people together and that this is what they want to be as well.
John Newton's Report
The conference coincided with the release of a report by Dr John Newton from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Persecuted and Forgotten?, which spells out the damning situation many persecuted Christians find themselves in. His report concludes that in the thirty countries currently being monitored by ACN, the situation has deteriorated for Christians in twenty of them in the last two and a half years. The report’s conclusion makes for sobering reading – in the Middle East, the situation for the Ancient Christian communities has worsened, there has been a clampdown in Communist countries such as China and the rise of powerful, well-resourced Islamist extremist groups has led to a crackdown on Christian activity and increased persecution.
The full ACN report, Persecuted and Forgotten?, will be available from 11am on 17 October from the Aid to the Church in Need website. The Patriarch is preaching at Mass in Westminster Cathedral this Saturday, 19 October, at 10.30am and hosting a conference after in Westminster Hall from 12. To book tickets, call 0208 642 8668 or go to www.acnuk.org/westminster
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