Lamenting the exodus of Christians from their ancestral homelands, Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East pleaded for peace and security in their annual Christmas messages.
In separate statements, the prelates shared their anguish regarding the persecution and uprooting of Christians from the region.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, appealed to
the international community to work to end terrorism “that is killing
and displacing families and depriving them of their rights and
He made the comments in his message from Bkerke, the
patriarchate north of Beirut.
He also called upon the U.N. Security Council “to work seriously to
find political solutions to the wars, aimed at bringing comprehensive
and lasting peace and the repatriation of refugees back to their
In his message, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan
called attention to “our beloved brothers and sisters of Syria and Iraq …
deprived of the Christmas joy, having endured the horrible consequences
of war, violence, and all kind of persecutions.”
They suffered “all
this hardship” because of their Christian faith and their willingness
“to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus the Savior,” he added.
Patriarch Younan reiterated that Christians were “uprooted from their
lands and driven out unjustly from their homes by barbarian terrorists,
in Mosul and the Plain of Nineveh, Iraq,” referring to the exodus of
some 100,000 Christians — among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics —
when the region was overtaken by Islamic State militants in 2014.
“How would they welcome Christmas, but in tears and anxiety for their future!” the patriarch wrote.
Regarding his visit in late November to the recently liberated
Christian villages in the Nineveh Plain, Patriarch Younan said “there is
still a lot to do” to inspire confidence “to our eradicated and exiled
community” to return to their ancestral land.
“We have to keep hoping that the local government and international
leaders will expel the terrorists and restore peace and security,” he
said, emphasizing that this is a basic condition for the return “of our
“We hope the same for all the inhabitants of war-torn Aleppo, the
second largest city of Syria, after being liberated and reunified,” he
Patriarch Younan expressed his appreciation for the “praiseworthy
efforts of many Catholic politicians in the West who would disagree with
the official policy of their government in dealing with the plight of
Christians in the Middle East.”
“We need the honest and courageous solidarity of elected people, like
Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, to speak up on behalf of
Christians and other minorities who have been oppressed, abused and
up-rooted by jihadists who kill innocents in the name of their religion,
either in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Nigeria.”
Before Christmas, Smith, R-New Jersey, visited Irbil, in the
Kurdistan region of northern Iraq to meet with Christians who had fled
Islamic State forces.
The patriarch said it is “quite evident that our people have been
persecuted because of religious hatred and forgotten because of the
political opportunism of the powerful of this world.”
Patriarch Younan, a native of the Syrian province of Hassake, served
for 14 years as bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic
Diocese of the U.S. and Canada, which is based in Newark, New Jersey. He
was elected patriarch in January 2009.
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, in his message,
stressed that “today in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, the
Christian presence is threatened … by wars that have given rise to this
terrifying exodus, especially of Christians.”
“This is a prayer for the peace of Christmas to protect our suffering
countries, especially Palestine, Iraq and most especially our beloved
Syria,” the Syrian-born patriarch wrote.
“I continue to repeat my motto:
give us peace and security, because that is the warranty and condition
for Christian resistance, presence, role and witness.”
Patriarch Laham urged the region’s Christians to stay in their
homelands, stressing that “our presence here is of great, global and
historical significance! We are not asked to sacrifice our families,
though we must struggle to remain here despite dangers, difficulties and
“If Christians emigrate,” Patriarch Laham added, “it is as though Christ were leaving his country and homeland.”
From Baghdad, Iraq, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, wrote: “Amidst the
concerns and worries of Iraqis, Syrians, and people of the Middle East,
in which children and civilians are victims of a harsh war, millions of
persons are displaced from their homes, driven out of their lands and
are living in tragic conditions, after the destruction of their towns’
He expressed his hope that “this feast may revive our people’s hope
to return to their homes, ancestral lands, history and memories.”