MIDDLE EAST – Vatican and Moscow Patriarchate offer joint help for persecuted Christians
Following the historic meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches have joined forces to provide humanitarian assistance to Christians in the Middle East who have suffered as a result of the conflict. They will also offer help to rebuild churches damaged or destroyed during Syria’s five year war.
Hieromonk Stefan, secretary of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, described as “unprecedented” the joint humanitarian effort in favor of the Middle East’s Christians: “this is undoubtedly a result of the agreements reached in Havana.” A statement issued by his department stated: “everyone knows that the tragedy in the Middle East, which has caused suffering to different Christian denominations and other groups, and the need to take urgent measures to improve the situation there were the focus of the meeting in Havana 12 February 2016.”
The statement also acknowledged “the need to draw up a detailed list of Christian shrines, churches and monasteries destroyed and damaged during the war in Syria and the strengthening of the common Christian witness of the Syrian tragedy have been recognized as a short term priority.”
A joint delegation from the Vatican and Moscow Patriarchate travelled to Syria and Lebanon on 6-7 April to coordinate humanitarian aid for displaced persons and begin drawing up a list of Christian sites in need of repair.
The delegation visited refugee camps and held consultations with local church leaders. The envoys included Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), and Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, the Latin rite Archbishop of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, and representatives of the charity Aid to the Church in Need.