Eastern Orthodox patriarchs meet in Damascus on Middle East dangers

(Photo: REUTERS / Yazan Homsy)An old damaged Orthodox Church is pictured in the besieged area of Homs, Syria December 8, 2013.

Eastern Orthodox churches' leaders have appealed to the world to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East standing decisively against Islamic hardliners driving a wedge among Muslims and other faiths.

The heads of five major eastern churches of Antioch met July 8 at an ecumenical summit in Damascus to tackle the plight of minority Christians in the Middle East as threats from Islamic State continue.

Patriarchs noted that ecumenism, promoted through imparting "a culture of openness, peace and freedom of belief," is a long-term solution to counter ideologies espoused by hardline groups such as IS.

"We call on everyone who claims to have an interest in our fate to help us to remain," said the church leaders in a statement, Reuters news agency reported. "We call on it to take its responsibility and to stop the wars in our land."

The church leaders convened in the Old City of Damascus to look for ways to find a lasting solution to the turmoil faced by Christians and Muslims, who do not subscribe to the extremist ideologies promoted by IS.

The five patriarchs of the churches of Antioch who attended the meeting were John X Yazigi of the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church; Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church; Gregorios III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church; Ignatius Joseph III Yonan of the Syriac Catholic Church, and Bechara Boutros al-Rahi of the Maronite Church.

The Vatican Ambassador to Syria Archbishop Mario Zenari was also in the meeting.

Church leaders maintained that while Christians in the Middle East are minorities in their countries, their presence remains an important aspect of cultural and religious diversity.

They reiterated that Christians would stay in their homelands, despite the threats posed to them by extremists.

"We are authentic [people] of this land, deeply rooted in its earth that was watered by the sweat of our fathers and grandfathers, and we confirm more than ever that we are staying," their statement said.

"Land is identity, and how much more it is if it is the land of Christ and his disciples," the statement continued, asianews.it reported. "We do not condemn those that choose to leave, but we remind Christians that steadfastness in faith often entails a great deal of tribulation."

The patriarchs appealed for an end in the conflict in Syria and in Iraq, but they acknowledged that a political solution is necessary so peace can be built in the region.

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