04 December 2014, The Tablet

Syrian bishop sees deliberate efforts to empty region of Christians

The Bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, said he believed that “one goal of the Syrian war is to drive all the Christians away”.

The Chaldean bishop, who heads Caritas Syria, said Iraqi Christians who had fled their homes were too traumatised and distrustful of their Muslim neighbours to return to their villages once fighting had eased.

Speaking at London’s Heythrop College on Monday he quoted Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros, who said on a visit to Moscow last month that the Muslim extremist groups seeking to reshape the balance of power in the whole region were the product of strategies pursued by Western powers.

The Coptic leader said he believed the extremists’ goal was “the total evacuation of the indigenous Christian communities in this area of the world”, adding: “We must not put our trust in the West to help Christians in Arab countries and the Near East.”

The bishop said that Chaldean Catholics in and around their historic homeland of Iraq are outnumbered by those who have emigrated to the West. War, poverty and unemployment have accelerated levels of emigration to places such as Detroit and San Diego, and Australia and Sweden. Bishop Audo added: “This gives us a lot of questions about our future.”

According to the website Chaldeans in Europe, there are about a million Chaldeans in total, of whom 450,000 live in Iraq and 550,000 have left the region. Britain is home to around 4,000.

Meanwhile, the three patriarchs based in Damascus are reported to be planning to meet, which would be an historic first. The heads of the Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Greek Catholic Church have never previously met but the appalling circumstances all three Churches were suffering meant that “ecumenical relations have never been better”, Mr Nassar said.

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