The Middle East : The Vatican calls for Assistance from the International Community

Shirine Zarkan, Translated by Gemma Kentish
1 Novembre 2014

“We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians”, Pope Francis declared on Monday 20th October, referring to the violence that has shaken the region. The Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, called on the international community to act in order to “prevent possible new genocides”.

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Nine cardinals from all corners of the world and seven patriarchs from the Middle East gathered together at an Ordinary Public Consistory to listen to Pope Francis’ position on Eastern Christians and the troubles that they are facing. From the beginning, the Pope highlighted the difficulties that minorities, in particular Christians, are currently experiencing in the region, which stretches across the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula. 

Since hostilities escalated, different armed factions have attacked minority groups who, due to lack of resources, remained where they were until they were driven into Turkey, and also across Europe and Asia. During his speech, Pope Francis emphasized that “recent events, especially in Iraq and Syria, are very worrying. We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable dimensions”. Indeed, these conflicts, which were contentious issues long before Pope Francis was inaugurated, have only intensified and spread to such an extent that the region is no longer conducive to civil society. 

Unending Persecution

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“Many of our brothers and sisters are brutally persecuted and driven from their homes. It seems that an awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it as is if people do not count and can be sacrificed for other interests,” Francis said. “And unfortunately all this encounters indifference on the part of many”. In this discourse on peace, the Pope reminded the audience of the reality of so many people displaced by conflicts and persecuted in their own homes, simply because of their differences and their mere existence. 

What he did not say was that it is not only Christians that have been affected by these events; whether Sunni, Shia, Alawite or Christian, people have all been kept under surveillance, harassed and intimidated before being imprisoned by armed groups. Most have left, the rest are dead.

In Italy, France and other Western countries, these war refugees are tracked down and detained in refugee camps, where hatred and misery descends upon them. For those who are able to join their family, particularly in the United Kingdom, communities spring up and mix with the local population, and they begin again, raising their children in peace and following a new path together. 

The Case of Eastern Christians, a Minority Steeped in History

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The Pope recalled that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the Middle East, and it was there that, more than 2000 years ago, Christianity was founded. If in times of peace multiculturalism allowed peoples of all ethnicities and religions to live side by side peacefully, each conflict is particularly bloody. Eastern Christians have always been involved in violence : as persecutors, for example with the massacres carried out by the Phalangists during the Lebanese Civil War in the Sabra and Shatila regions, or as victims, like today in Syria where they are subjected to terrible atrocities. 

Confronted with this, the Pope called for a response from the international community : “We denounce the systematic violence and persecution against Christians in this region, those who are forced to abandon their homes, their life and who have to flee to save their families, before even having the right to freely profess their faith”.

The Internet comes to the Rescue for Christians and rails against the Crimes of Islamic State

On Facebook, a movement has taken off, and thousands of Christians from around the world have joined up. After the decimation of the city of Mosul, Iraq, a movement entitled “We are All Nazarenes” expressed their solidarity and protestation against the incident. Just before the attack on the Christians in Mosul, the Arabic letter N for “Nasarah” (Nazarene) was painted across the walls of their houses, in order to distinguish them as the target. As a mark of outrage, the same letter N (pronounced ‘noon’ in Arabic) was in response disseminated en masse though profile pictures, images, stickers…

Pope Francis thus affirmed on Monday that commitment must be taken against these types of barbaric acts : “The world can no longer tolerate these fanatics who interpret their own religion however they like; they are now a threat to anyone who lives in these regions, no matter what religion they profess”. 

The Pope is categorical : it must be the international community that directs a movement to halt these criminal actions.

However, what is the significance of these words, in the face of such destructive acts ? Will governments from all states come together to form a bloc against this violence, or will they invade the region and take the risk of further spreading chaos ? A simple Facebook movement can raise awareness amongst thousands of people, but it remains to be seen if they would be prepared to take offence in reality as opposed to behind the screen.