By His All-Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
3rd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom
Persecution of Christians In The Holy Lands & Middle East
Consequences and Solutions
Trump Hotel, Washington, DC
(December 5, 2017)
* * *
Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America,
Beloved Co-celebrants in the Lord;
Your Excellencies and Honorable Representatives of Governments;
Beloved and Esteemed Archons;
Distinguished Members of Academia and the Press;
Reverend Clergy, Friends;
Beloved Children in the Lord:
From the Sacred Center of our Faith, the Holy and Great Church of Constantinople, we commend our beloved and faithful Archons of our Ecumenical Patriarchate and express our thanks to them, for their zeal and faithfulness in holding their Third International Conference on religious freedom under the title: “Persecution of Christians In The Holy Lands & Middle East: Consequences and Solutions.”
We congratulate the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle for this urgent and most necessary dialogue, one that we know will be conducted in the spirit of love, compassion, and concern. All Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East are facing dire consequences due to the constant upheavals and disastrous war-making that have afflicted the region for a season of intolerable length.
As we declared in 2014 with our brother, His Holiness Pope Francis:
From this holy city of Jerusalem, we express our shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands. In trust we turn to the almighty and merciful God in a prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East in general. We especially pray for the Churches in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, which have suffered most grievously due to recent events. We encourage all parties regardless of their religious convictions to continue to work for reconciliation and for the just recognition of peoples' rights. We are persuaded that it is not arms, but dialogue, pardon and reconciliation that are the only possible means to achieve peace.
Our appeal continues to this day, more urgent than ever.
Although we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus, chapter 50), we also know that this seed, like the mustard seed, has now grown into a great and embracing reality (Mark 4:30-32). And this reality around the world and indeed, still in the land whence it sprang, is a safe harbor and a kind and loving neighbor to those who need or want to find shelter in its branches.
This is the reason that your conference is so vital, for we must clearly see and understand the consequences for the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and vigorously seek solutions so that these plantings of the Lord might not be uprooted and be lost to the generations yet to come.
Not so many weeks ago, we addressed the 2nd International Conference of Athens for Religious and Cultural Pluralism and for Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East, and there stressed the necessity of communication between diverse bodies and varying interests. As we said in Athens:
[W]e must establish a stable channel of communication for a truly effective contribution toward preventing and addressing acts of violence that supposedly occur out of religious conviction and mandate. Such an institution would also be able to develop a constructive cooperation with the Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East and other organizations.
Now more than ever, such channels are needed so that misunderstandings and misinformation can be addressed in real time. We know that the majority of the differing populations are most willing to live in peace with one another. But if we allow the shrill cries of the violent few to drown out the voices of reason, tolerance, and mutual understanding, how are we to listen with perception and discretion?
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, living as both an ethnic and a religious minority for half a millennium, is well aware of the complexities and challenges that all Christians of the Middle East are facing. The dissolution of regimes, the Western-back policies of regime change, the still intractable situation of Palestinian autonomy and the nation of Israel, the struggle within Islam over its own orthodoxy and confrontation with modernity – all of these are issues and subjects well known at the Phanar. As you grapple with them, we pray that your deliberations will be marked with love, compassion, forgiveness and wisdom.
Indeed, we who would be the neighbors of other religions must love them as we love ourselves. We must reach into that common and shared inheritance as children of Abraham – the spiritual progenitor of us all – so that we might find the familial, ethical, and indeed spiritual roots that we all hold in common and we all hold so dear.
And where those roots are too hard to find, or too deep to reach, let us consider our shared humanity as the most basic commonality – our shared planet that we must all live on. As human persons, we are all entitled to live in freedom of conscience and in freedom of religious expression. Our Creator has called us to such freedom, so that we may worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
May your sacred work be marked by such a deeply human fervor for truth and freedom, that your good works may shine brightly before all people, so that they will glorify our Father Who is in Heaven (cf. Matthew 5:16).
May his grace, peace and infinite mercy be with you all.