Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch, All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church addresses the GCF gathering. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
The Syrian-based patriarch of an Orthodox Christian church in Syria has told the third global gathering of the Global Christian Forum in Colombia that Christians are often made unwelcome due to putting others outside their comfort zone.
Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch, All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church addressed the gathering in Bogota on 25 April while participants were discussing “discrimination, persecution and martyrdom” as one of the challenges facing the global Church.
“Christianity is not welcomed in the world because it puts people out of their comfort zone. It challenges their worldly philosophical convictions with the simplicity of faith,” said Aleppo-based Patriarch Ignatius addressing the 24-28 April gathering.
The meeting received a report after a 2015 consultation in Tirana, Albania titled: “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together.”
It was organised by the GCF and supported by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Roman Catholic Church), the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the World Evangelical Alliance, and the World Council of Churches.
A book on the 1-5 November 2015 Tirana consultation co-authored by GCF Secretary, Rev. Dr Larry Miller and its founding secretary, Huibert van Beek was also received.
Van Beek said that at the time of the meeting Christian persecution was “high on the agenda” due to what happened then in Northern Iraq, although the situation in Iraq has since improved.
“But many Christians who have fled the area have not be been able to come back,” said van Beek. “The Christian presence in the Middle East continues to diminish because many see no more future in the lands where their communities used to live for centuries.”
Attention is now focussed on Syria where seven years of conflict have ensued, and the gathering also discussed the abduction and disappearance clerics five years ago from near Aleppo.
“The abduction of Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos [Yazigi], we believe, was a clear message targeting the Christian population of Aleppo, in particular and of Syria in general,” Patriarch Ignatius said.
“It constituted a threat to the Christians, rooted in their homeland in the countries of the Middle East and reinforced the position of the terrorists whose ‘not-so-hidden’ message to Christians was: this land is not yours, leave or you will be killed.”
Firm believer in the forum
Mar Gregorius was a firm believer in the Forum and its mission, Patriarch Ignatius said.
“Today, we continue to suffer persecution at the hands of terrorist groups such as ISIS, Al-Nusra and others, who are targeting Christian congregations and have completely destroyed many of our churches and other institutions,” he said.
The patriarch said Iraq has lost more than 80 percent of its Christian population in the last 15 years and the Christian population of Syria has decreased according to “our estimation by more than 40 percent since the so-called Arab Spring ‘blossomed’ in our land.”
Ignatius said that is clear that military means are used for political and economic goals “at the expense of the innocent civilian people”.
He noted that followers of the faith have high expectations. “We ask you to be our voice in your communities, as the unbalanced media is suffocating our voices.”
Professor Dimitra Koukoura, a GCF committee member for the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Ecumenical Patriarchate shared more about the life and character of Metropolitan Yohanna.
“He was a spiritual leader and politically minded, daring to address the global community regarding the injustice and hypocrisy of the powerful in the Middle East,” said Koukoura.
“He was a selfless devoted pastor and at the same time an ecumenical personality ready to participate in inter-faith and inter-Christian dialogues for the sake of peaceful co-existence of all people on earth.”
In a moment of tribute the auditorium was moved to silence as a series of images from Mor Gregorius life, including his presence at GCF meetings, was shown. The sounds of a single flute, played by fellow GCF committee member, Dr Ganoune Diop, drifted across the gathered participants as a fitting memorial.