The Prince of Wales warned today that the future of Christianity is in jeopardy in the Middle East.
Speaking to refugees from the region and to clerics from Middle Eastern churches, he warned: “There is a very real crisis that threatens the very existence of Christianity in its place of origin. This affects us all.
Christianity is not a foreign religion in the Middle East. It has been part of the Middle East for 2,000 years.”
The Prince was speaking at an Advent reception hosted by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, at Archbishop’s House, for members of various Middle-Eastern Christian denominations and where he met refugees from Syria, Egypt, Iraq and other Middle East countries and heard of the persecution of Christians by Islamist fundamentalists.
The Prince warned that the Christian heritage of the region “is under threat as never before. The Churches are being targeted by fanatics. The impact that this violence has had on people is heartbreaking. This is a reminder of what people will sink to in the name of faith.”
And he urged in Advent that “we pause to think about that part of the world where the Word was made flesh.
The Prince, accompanied by Cardinal Nichols, spent an hour talking to people from the Middle East attending the reception and hearing their stories. Among them was Mark Mansor, from Iraq, who lost nine of his relatives, including his brother, when they tried to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece. He spoke to Prince Charles about his efforts to bring his late brother’s nine year old son, who survived the board journey and is now in Athens, to join him in London.
Iraqi engineering student Sarmad Ozan, 24, a member of the Syriac Orthodox Church, told Prince Charles of how he fled by from Mosul with his family after they were threatened by Islamic State.
Although he secured a scholarship to study in Britain, the Iraqi state will no longer fund him because he is a Christian, he told the prince, and is now appealing against the rejection of his asylum claim in Britain. He said that the prince told him “We are with you” when he explained his plight.
Visitors to the reception praised the Prince of Wales for his interest in the suffering of Middle East Christians. Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said that his interest has proved invaluable in raising the profile of Middle East Christians.
Among the problems that Christian refugees are facing and about which the Prince expressed concern was the extent to which they are not being admitted to Britain.
The UK takes refugees via the camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees but many Christians avoid the camps because they fear they will be targeted by Muslims based in them, and so they rely instead on help from local churches and houses, and are not processed through the UN system.
“I told him that Christians need equal access to help,” said Bishop Angaelos.
Charities including Iraqi Christians in Need, Friends of the Holy Land, the Jesuit Refugee Service and Aid to the Church in Need – which the Prince described as “a remarkable organisation” – also attended the event.
Earlier this year ACN took three Christians to meet Prince Charles in Scotland to describe their experience of persecution. Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal from Syria, Victoria Yohanna, 15, from Nigeria, forced to witness violence by Boko Haram, and Fr Douglas Bazi, a former captive of Al Qaeda in Baghdad, talked to the prince for an hour and a half about what they had seen and suffered.
The Advent reception is one of several occasions in the past year when the Prince of Wales has spoken out about the situation facing Christians in parts of the Middle East. Today Cardinal Nichols praised him for his forthright support.
“At this time at Christmas there should be particular concern for those who suffer in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Prayers were said at the service that concluded the meeting by Melkite, Maronite and Syriac Catholics.