Prince Charles lauds inspiring role of Christians in the Middle East

(Photo: REUTERS / Toby Melville)Britain's Prince Charles (Center R) is accompanied by the Archbishop of the Syrian Church in the United Kingdom, Archbishop Athanasius (Center L), during a visit to a Syriac (Syrian) Orthodox Church in west London December 17, 2013. Prince Charles was accompanied by Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad of Jordan during the visit, celebrating Christian communities from the Middle-East in Britain

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne has delivered a message of hope to Christians facing persecution in the Middle East as he attended a service in London's Westminster Abbey.

In a Dec. 5 address at the abbey, the 70-year-old prince condemned a failure to share in the sufferings of the Middle East, urging Christians to "open ourselves afresh to the pain of those caught up in a region of suffering."

Persecution isolated people, he said: "Those outside its experience cannot say 'I know how you feel,' because they don't. To live in a country or in a society where a government, or an armed group, or even a minority of people consider that you should be consigned to oblivion because of your faith in Christ is an experience that is without parallel."

A nun from Iraq forced to flee from Islamic State fighters overnight was among those who provided testimony at Westminster Abbey in the service celebrating the contribution of Christians in the Middle East, The Church Times reported.

Sister Nazek Matty, a Dominican Sister of St Catherine of Siena, in Iraq, described how the Sisters had now returned to the plains of Nineveh.

They came back "with all the doubts and fears of our hearts", because of their determination "to live our beliefs in the place where we belong, and where we feel deeply connected to our roots."

They were among an estimated 100,000 Christians who fled the area in mid- 2014.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph on the eve of the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that Christians communities in the Middle East faced "the threat of imminent extinction," noting that the Christian population of Iraq is now less than half what it was in 2003.

The prince, who also is sometimes known as the Prince of Wales spoke of how Christians, Muslims and Jews in parts of the Middle East are supporting one another and living peacefully together, Christian Today reported.

He spoke of a group of Egyptian Copts martyred on a beach in Libya in 2015, and "those countless killed in Iraq and Syria."

"Those who remain faithful in suffering are beacons and lights of hope and an inspiration to us all. To you who are from the region, we owe a debt of profound gratitude. For your suffering calls us to faithfulness, and to fellowship." They shone, he said, with "the light of obedience."

Charles said, "Co-existence and understanding are not just possible, therefore; they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience. Extremism and division are by no means inevitable.

"All three of the great Abrahamic faiths believe in a loving, just and merciful God who cares for creation, who cares for his creatures and who expects us to care for one another," Independent Catholic News reported.

Christians outside areas of persecution were called on to ensure "that governments, that households, that societies welcome the afflicted, pray for the suffering, stand with those in torment, rejoice in liberation".

The service, which began with singing by the Coptic Diocesan Choir, accompanied by small cymbals, was attended by 13 heads of the Churches of the Middle East and North Africa.

The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Rev. Suheil Dawani, gave a reading from second reading of Luke's gospel, "No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar," in Arabic.

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