Published: 02 April 2015
Who is the most formidable defender of persecuted Christians? Many would nominate Pope Francis, who has offered thunderous denunciations of attacks on the faithful. But another candidate is emerging: The future king of England, writes Ed West.
– The Catholic Herald
The media has barely noticed that the Prince of Wales has a new obsession, as powerful as his passions for architecture and the environment: The persecution of Middle Eastern Christians. And as that region deteriorates, this might well be the subject that dominates his reign.
Soon after ISIS slaughtered 21 Christians on a beach in Libya, the Coptic Church in Britain launched an appeal for the martyrs’ children. It found an immediate high-profile backer in Prince Charles, who contacted the Copts without any prompting (he also wrote a letter of condolence to the Coptic Pope Towards II).
Bishop Angeles, General Bishop of the Coptic Church in Britain, says: “Prince Charles wanted to donate the money out of a sense of solidarity and he was happy for this to be publicised to raise awareness. It was a way of showing other people that it was all right to support this.”
The Prince first reached out to the Copts in 2013, shortly after the worst anti-Christian violence in Egypt in centuries. The events were barely reported in the English-speaking press and were downplayed by the US State Department. Copts felt deserted by their friends and vulnerable before their enemies.
That was when the Prince’s Private Secretary approached Egyptian Christians in England. The Prince then visited the Coptic Centre in the UK, along with a Jordanian prince. There, Bishop Angeles presented two Coptic icons as gifts, one of St George as a present for Charles’s first grandchild, George. “It was very sincere,” Bishop Angeles recalls. “He made an impromptu speech and was well informed, and he seemed to have read up. He seemed empathetic.”
The Prince has also helped other Eastern Christians in peril. Last September he gave a donation to Aid to the Church in Need’s campaign to help the Iraqi and Syrian faithful. He wrote a letter to Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Saco, saying he was “heartbroken” by events in Iraq. Again, it was the Prince who approached the charity indirectly through mutual acquaintances. John Pontiff, ACN’s head of press, says the Prince “feels passionately about the decline of Christianity in the Middle East” and that “it means a great deal to him”.
Last December, the Prince recorded a video address for the launch of ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World 2014 report. This was a tremendous coup for a Catholic charity that was launched after the Second World War to assist the faithful living under Communism.
Charles spoke touchingly of the “mounting despair” at the situation in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq, where ISIS fighters had driven out Christians, Yazd’s and unorthodox Muslims. He said it was “an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is now under such threat in the Middle East – an area where Christians have lived for 2,000 years,” and where people of different faiths had lived together peaceably for centuries.