"We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians," Pope tells cardinals.
Describing the notion of a Middle East devoid of Christians as unthinkable, Pope Francis led a discussion about how to respond to the crisis the Church is facing from the spread of militant Islamic fundamentalism.
“We cannot resign ourselves to thinking about the Middle East without Christians, who for 2000 years have confessed the name of Jesus” in the region, the Pope said today.
The Pope was presiding over and Ordinary Public Consistory of cardinals for the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory of the Holy Cross of Miracles in Goa, and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception, foundress of the Oblation Sisters of the Holy Sacrament.
The Monday morning gathering took place in the New Synod Hall in the Vatican. Pope Francis expanded the agenda of the meeting to include discussion of the crisis in the Middle East.
Thanking the cardinals from the Middle East for their presence, Francis remarked, “We share a desire for peace and stability in the Middle East and the will to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue, reconciliation and political commitment. At the same time, we would like to give all the help possible to Christian communities to support them in remaining in the region. … We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians, who have profess the name of Jesus there for over 2,000 years.”
He said that Iraq and Syria are two countries in which Christians — who have made their homes there since Apostolic times — are facing unprecedented threats.
The Holy Father focused on the need for constant prayer and effective advocacy in favor of peace, and for specific attention to the plight of Christians there.
“Recent events,” the Pope said, “especially in Iraq and Syria, are very worrying. We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable dimensions. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have [been constrained to] leave their homes in a brutal way.”
Saying that the situation appears to be one in which people no longer appreciate the value of human life, Pope Francis decried the spirit of indifference that seems to dominate, making the sacrifice of the human person to other interests a matter of course.
“This unfair situation,” he said, “requires an adequate response by the international community, as well as and in addition to our constant prayer.”
Pope Francis concluded, saying, “I am sure that, with the help of the Lord, genuinely worthwhile reflection and suggestions will emerge, in order to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering, and also to face the drama of the reduction of the Christian presence in the land where He was born and from which Christianity spread.”
The Consistory also heard a report from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on the meeting of apostolic nuncios and diplomatic representatives in the Middle East, which took place in the Vatican Oct. 2-4. Vatican writer John Thavis reported that Cardinal Parolin condemned Islamic State fundamentalists for “unprecedented atrocities.” He also said Muslim leaders have a responsibility to publicly denounce the goals and activities of the so-called Islamic State. "More broadly, Parolin said the separation of religion and state was an idea that should be developed in the Muslim world," Thavis wrote.
Patriarchs of Middle Eastern Churches described the situations and principal problems they face in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, the Holy Land, Jordan, and Lebanon. There were approximately 30 interventions, focusing mainly on the need for peace and reconciliation, the defense of religious freedom, support for local communities, the importance of education for creating new generations able to engage in dialogue, and the role of the international community.
Vatican Radio and Vatican Information Service contributed to this story.