Syria/Middle East  Monday, 22nd June 2015

Königstein/Sutton, 22nd June 2015. Middle East Patriarchs have called on their faithful to forge closer ties with Muslim neighbours in the struggle against Islamist ideologies, saying that extremism threatens people of all faiths.

In a joint pastoral message, the five Patriarchs of Antioch (in modern-day Turkey, close to the Syrian border) said most Muslims in the region oppose the Takfiri fundamentalist Sunni Muslim ideology which condemns liberalising influences within Islam and is seen as encouraging violence.

Directing their comments at the Christian faithful, the Patriarchs stated: “Our [Muslim] partners are aware of your sufferings and sympathise.”

Calling on Christians to “remain on very good terms with our Muslim brothers and sisters”, the Patriarchs said many local Muslims “are working with their leaders to confront and eradicate completely Takfiri thought…

“It is high time to confront Takfiri ideology, to dry out its well-springs by teaching the kind of religious education that encourages an attitude of openness, peacefulness and freedom of belief.”

The pastoral message was released after a meeting in the Greek Orthodox Al Maryamiyah Church in Damascus.

A copy of the message was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which is prioritising pastoral and emergency aid for Christians and others fleeing persecution and other violence in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Putting their names to the message were five Patriarchs of Antioch and All the East – Greek Orthodox John X, Melkite Greek Catholic Gregorios III, Syrian Catholic Joseph III Younan, Maronite Beshara Boutros Al Rai and Syrian Orthodox Ignatius Afrem II.

In their pastoral message, the Patriarchs go on to urge their congregations to engage in the kind of “critical thinking” that aims to establish citizenship for religious minorities in Islamic countries.

All five Antiochian Patriarchs were keen to stress solidarity, saying that violence and other terrorism was the work of minority groups and that the majority of Muslims were “partners in our homeland and its destiny”.

The Patriarchs’ message went on to reiterate calls to the international community to help end the crisis in Syria and to find “peaceful and political solutions to conflicts”.

The statement also asks foreign governments to help displaced people return to their homelands and reclaim their properties and “to protect their rights as citizens.”

Speaking at an event last week in Scotland organised by Aid to the Church in Need, Lebanese Maronite priest Father Samer Nassif estimated that since 2003, “one million and a half Christians [had been] forced to leave their villages and their homes in Iraq and Syria.”

With no end in sight to the migration of people of all faiths from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, the Patriarchs appealed to the world to pray for people caught up in the suffering.

Directing their comments at the international community, the Patriarchs stated: “Do not neglect this invitation for the salvation of the world.

“Be sure that in you the Gospel of Christ will remain effective in the Church of Antioch.”

ACN is renewing appeals for prayer for the region.

Since the crisis in the Middle East erupted in 2011 with the Arab Spring, Aid to the Church in Need has provided food, shelter and medicine to thousands of Christians and others both internally displaced and living as refugees abroad.

Clare Creegan and John Pontifex.