Pope Francis joined Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians, to condemn the expulsion of Christians from the Middle East.
According to the Telegraph, Pope Francis met a group of Christians from Syria and Iraq who were forced to flee persecution by Islamist extremists on his final day in Turkey. The Pope pointed out that these people were being forced to flee a region that they have called home for over 2,000 years.
“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for 2,000 years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes.”
Reuters reports that Pope Francis acknowledged the plight of poverty as part of the problem in the Middle East. Francis mentioned Islamic State insurgents, who have killed or driven Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, and others who do not share their radical brand of Sunni Islam out of swathes of Syria and Iraq. The pope said stopping poverty was key, partly because it gave rise to “the recruitment of terrorists.” He has said that, while it is lawful for the international community to use force to stop an “unjust aggressor,” lasting solutions must be found.
Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have been close since the Pope was elected to the Seat of St Peter. The pair are working together to attempt to find a solution to the “terrible situation of Christians” throughout the Middle East. One key component to the plan to end the expulsion of Christians from the region by the religious leaders is to open up dialogue with moderate Muslim leaders.
Francis says that speaking with moderate Muslim leaders about confronting and combating the fanaticism of groups like ISIL could be key to creating a mutual respect and friendship among Christians and Muslims in the region.
“The grave challenges facing the world require the solidarity of all people of good will, and so we recognise the importance of promoting a constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship.”
Though Francis is hoping for “mutual respect and friendship” among moderate Muslims in the region, he had harsh words for terrorist groups and Muslim extremists noting they are committing a “grave sin against God.”
“Taking away the peace of a people, committing every act of violence, or consenting to such acts, especially when directed against the weakest and defenceless, is a profoundly grave sin against God.”