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In Christmas messages, patriarchs call for peace amid Christian persecution

27 Dec 2016 – BEIRUT (CNS) — 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.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter, appealed to the international community to work to end terrorism “that is killing and displacing families and depriving them of their rights and dignities” 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 homelands.”

In his message, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III 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 Ignatius Joseph 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 Ignatius Joseph 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 uprooted people.”

“We hope the same for all the inhabitants of war-torn Aleppo, the second largest city of Syria, after being liberated and reunified,” he added.

The Syriac Catholic leader 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 Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq to meet with Christians who had fled Islamic State forces.

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