THE PRINCE OF WALES: SAY A PRAYER FOR CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
We will all be poorer if a tradition dating back 2,000 years is
allowed to disappear
An Iraqi Kildani Christian attends a Mass in Baghdad, Iraq – today,
the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest concentration of
Christians in the world Photo: EPA
By HRH The Prince of Wales
8:19PM GMT 18 Dec 2013
I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing
difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the
Middle East. It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that they
are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist
Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in that part
of the world and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and
sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to
the early Church, as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, Our Lord’s
own language, spoken and sung in visits to churches earlier this week.
Yet, today, the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest
concentration of Christians in the world – just 4 per cent of the
population. It is clear that the number has dropped dramatically over
the last century, and is falling still further.
This has an effect on all of us, although, of course, primarily on
those Christians who can no longer continue to live in the Middle East:
we all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such
a rich tradition – dating back 2,000 years – begins to disappear.
It comprises a rich panoply of church life, including the Antiochian,
Greek, Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Churches, the Melkite,
Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean and Roman Catholic Churches,
as well as the Church of the East, and Churches established, dare I
say it, somewhat more recently, including the Anglican Church.
In saying all this about the difficulties facing these Christian
churches I am, of course, conscious that they are not the only faith
community in this region suffering at the moment. Nor is the Middle
East the only part of the world in which Christians are suffering.
But, given the particularly acute circumstances they face, I feel it
worthwhile to draw attention to their current plight. It is important
to note, above all, that the decline of Christians in the region
represents a major blow to peace, as they are part of the fabric of
society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities.
This crucial role throughout Middle Eastern society is one recognised
by many Muslims (who are not extremists) both Shia or Sunni, who
attest to the fact that Christians are their friends and that their
communities are needed.
Jordan has set a wonderful example in this regard and, as my wife and I
saw for ourselves during our visit earlier this year, has again taken
in a huge number of refugees, this time from Syria during the present
troubles. Moreover, under His Majesty King Abdullah II’s leadership,
Jordan is a most heartening and courageous witness to the fruitful
tolerance and respect between faith communities.
For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and
Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point
though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges
are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested
interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation,
false accusation and organised persecution – including of Christian
Let us remember we are talking about Arab Christians – Syrian, Iraqi,
Palestinian, Egyptian and Saudi Christians, as well as those from
other Arab countries and from Iran – not Western Christians living
in the Middle East.
Now is the time to redouble our combined efforts to stress what binds
the three Abrahamic faiths together and, as Christians, Jews and
Muslims, to express outrage at what tears us asunder. Surely there is
no better time to do so than at Christmas – to remind all of us that
an emphasis on love of our neighbours and doing to others as we would
have them do to us are the ultimate foundations of truth, justice,
compassion and human rights. Such profound wisdom is at the very heart
of all three religions, however obscured the message may have become.
My prayer at this time is for all beleaguered communities and I believe
that Western Christians ought to pray earnestly for fellow-believers in
the Middle East. I am reminded that Tuesday in the Eastern Christian
calendar was the festival of Daniel and the three boys in the fiery
furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They symbolise all those
who are persecuted for their faith. But the important point is:
This is an edited version of an address given to religious leaders
at Clarence House. Earlier this week the Prince of Wales and Prince
Ghazi of Jordan visited the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Stevenage
and the Syrian Orthodox Church in London. Prince Ghazi of Jordan is
chief adviser for religious and cultural affairs to the King of Jordan