“Christians in the Middle East feel abandoned and betrayed” – Patriarch Younan
Christians in the Middle East feel abandoned by the international community. The West has so far failed to help them in an extremely difficult situation – and Islamic society makes them second-class citizens in their own homeland, says the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Joseph III Younan.
Instead of defending the rights of Christians in the region and giving them an equal opportunity to live in their homeland, the West had left Christians in the lurch. “We feel abandoned, yes, betrayed,” said the Patriarch. In view of the brutality of the upheavals in Iraq and Syria, it is difficult for Christians to survive there. But Western nations took opportunistic action instead of really helping. Quite simply, Christians, like the church leadership, feel abandoned and betrayed by Western countries.
A voice crying in the wilderness
“We, the leaders of the Churches, try, like St. John the Baptist, to share our rights with prominent laypeople who care about their communities, but it seems as if we are crying in the wilderness.”
Younan holds “opportunistic geopolitics” responsible for Christians losses in the Middle East. Many are homeless, without means to rebuild their houses and cities, and have to spend years in refugee camps. The Patriarch adds: “We are not particularly numerous, we have no oil, we are not a terrorist threat to the civilized world, and so we have been pushed aside and abandoned.”
Christians from Iraq and Syria who have fled to neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, live “in a kind of limbo. They do not know what to do for their children,” the Patriarch said.
Lost home, uncertain future
More than half of the Christians in Iraq have left the country, and a third Christians lived as internally displaced persons, Younan continued. In Syria, at least a third of the Christian population has left the country, and many were waiting for admission to new countries.
The Church is trying to help the refugees and displaced persons with the basic care. However, this does not suffice for people who have been away from home for years.
“We suffer with them in the soul because we do not know what we can do for them. We cannot apply for visas as refugees for them because then the Christian communities would abandon their home countries and that would be a great loss for us “, he said. “But we try to help them with what is needed.”
Dialogue with Islam despite oppression
Speaking about the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, the Patriarch said that this is sometimes a difficult task in the current context. However, it must take place at the level of the faithful of both religions.
For Christians in the Middle East, the first thing is to obtain the right to live as free, equal citizens in their own country. In Islamic societies, Christians and Jews in many places are treated as second-class citizens, not only historically, but also today. Even severe discrimination is often not legally punished, according to Patriarch Younan.
A second important right is freedom of religion. But Christians – except in Lebanon – are not allowed to evangelise. “We have been made a minority in our own countries because they have forbidden us to be missionaries in our own homeland.”
Younan appealed to the international community not to regard Christians and other minorities as “figures, but as people, persons who have been persecuted for centuries.”
Appeal to the West to protect the rights of Christians
“We were reduced to minorities, not because we had to leave our countries, but because we were not considered equal citizens with the Muslim majority,” he said. That is why he called “the so-called civilized world to pay attention not only to their own political and economic interests, but to protect the rights of those ‘persecuted for their beliefs and their religion.’ “
“In this way, we can resolve our problems, our very critical situation,” he said. And if the world does not defend the human rights and religious freedom of all people, then “the Middle East will be emptied of its Christian communities and that would be a very great loss.”