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Pope Tells Mideast, African Refugees Wars That Caused Flight Must End

30 Nov 2014 – By Francis X. Rocca

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Pope Francis met with young refugees from civil wars in Syria and Iraq, a few hours after joining Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to denounce the plight of Christians there.

“The degrading conditions in which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable,” the pope told about 100 young refugees in Istanbul 30 November, less than an hour before boarding his flight to Rome. “We must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation.”

Addressing the refugees, who included Christians and Muslims, Pope Francis publicly reiterated his appreciation for Turkey’s acceptance of refugees from neighboring lands — an estimated 1.6 million from Syria alone.

The pope did not repeat his earlier statements of qualified support for multilateral military action against Islamic State militants who have targeted Christians in Syria and Iraq. However, he appealed for “greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home.”

Meeting about 100 young refugees in the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis told them, “I wanted to meet other refugees, but it was not possible.” The young people, who also included refugees from Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa, sang for the pope in Spanish, English and Arabic.

Earlier in the day, the pope joined Patriarch Bartholomew, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops, to sign a joint declaration that highlighted violence against Christians in the region.

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians,” the leaders wrote, specifically noting the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

“Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes,” the declaration said. “Tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.”

The statement described an “ecumenism of suffering,” according to which the “sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity.”

“We no longer have the luxury of isolated action,” the patriarch said during a liturgy celebrating the feast of St. Andrew, patron saint of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. “The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom.”

Pope Francis, also speaking during the liturgy, said that the “cry of the victims of conflict urges us to move with haste along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox. Indeed, how can we credibly proclaim the message of peace which comes from Christ, if there continues to be rivalry and disagreement between us?”

The leaders’ joint declaration called for peace in eastern Ukraine, where a war between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has exacerbated historic tensions between Eastern Catholic and Orthodox communities there.

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Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East War Turkey