Middle East patriarchs discuss plight of Christian minorities with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2020 / 10:51 am (CNA).- Six Catholic patriarchs from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Friday to discuss the difficulties faced by Christians in the region and their mass emigration.

In the morning of Feb. 7, the pope met Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon; Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch; Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria; Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch; Armenian Patriarch Gregoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia; and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch.

Patriarch Younan told CNA that the patriarchs requested the meeting with Pope Francis because of the “dramatic situation of the Middle East in general, whether in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon” and because of the “migratory flux” of the Christian minorities from their homelands.

It is a “a threat to our survival,” he said, explaining that they are struggling to provide proper spiritual assistance to their faithful in other parts of the world, especially Western Europe.

The six patriarchs will meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to discuss the same topics Feb. 8.

Patriarch Younan said the patriarchs thanked the pope for what he is already, and said they would like the Vatican “to keep defending the cause of all persecuted Christians, all persecuted minorities in the Middle East, where the political situation is not promising for [minorities] and they don’t have the means to defend themselves and provide safety for their communities.”

The Syriac Catholic patriarch also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed “Peace-to-Prosperity” plan, announced last week, which outlines a path to statehood for Palestine as part of a “two-state solution.”

“For us, it brings more… threats than solutions,” Patriarch Younan said, adding that he believes the demands of Palestinians have not been considered.

“But it’s a plan, at least we can say it will re-expose this question and hopefully there will be sincere efforts to bring those two people together to get… discussions for the future,” he said.

Patriarch Younan made an appeal for people “to help Christians stay in their homeland. For that, we need more deeds than words.”

Catholics and the Holy See should work to influence elected officials to see Middle Eastern people not as numbers, but as people, who “deserve to live in dignity and in freedom,” he said.

Patriarch Younan will be among the participants in a meeting of Mediterranean bishops in Bari, Italy, Feb. 19-23.

Organized by the Italian bishops, “Mediterranean, frontier of peace,” will also be attended by Pope Francis on the final day, Feb. 23.

Patriarch Younan said the meeting will include a discussion of the Christian presence in the Middle East and ecumenical dialogue.

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