(Photo: The Christian Post / Stoyan Zaimov)
Roma Downey, the Irish-born actress and co-producer of the hit History Channel miniseries "The Bible," along with the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), called for religious tolerance and respect between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East at an event hosted by Jordan King Abdullah II in Anman, which ended Wednesday, to discuss the escalating violence against Christians in the region.
Downey, who attended the event with her producer husband Mark Burnett, spoke Tuesday as a representative of the WEA, which represents more than 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide, before an influential group of guests, which included the Jordan King's Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and Vatican representatives.
"I personally experienced firsthand the impact of sectarian violence and religious discrimination," said Downey, who drew a parallel between the religious violence engulfing the Middle East today to the Catholic-Protestant violence that took place in her native Northern Ireland, according to a copy of her speech obtained by The Christian Post. The former "Touched by an Angel" actress noted some of the crackdown efforts done to fellow Catholics in her hometown of Derry, which she described as "a city divided by a river with Catholics living on one side and Protestants on the other."
"The shoe shop I worked in part time as a school girl was blown to pieces on a busy Saturday afternoon, and as a child one day, while I was kneeling to pray at my mother's grave in the city cemetery, a sniper's bullet passed through the hood of my coat."
Downey pointed to the present situation in Northern Ireland as a symbol of hope for a better future, as Catholics and Protestants in her hometown now live peaceably together.
"My husband Mark is an Englishman, he was raised Protestant, served in the British army and did a tour of duty in Northern Ireland," Downey shared. "Our marriage is a living example of tolerance and healing and of not allowing old hurts and discrimination to live on."
Downey's remarks were part of a conference endorsed by the Hashemite Kingdom's monarchy titled "Challenges facing Arab Christians."
According to the Jordanian media agency PETRA, the two-day event has "royal patronage" and brings together Christians from across the Middle East.
"The two-day gathering aims to discuss challenges facing Arab Christians, and document them and identify ways to address them in order to preserve the Christians' important role especially in maintaining the city of Jerusalem and its history," said PETRA on Monday.
"The conference also seeks to bring together leaders of Christian churches in the Arab region, and discuss everything that ensures the promotion of their role and presence as an essential and integral part of the Middle East's fabric, culture and history."
WEA Secretary General Geoff Tunnicliffe in his speech said that "Christains who are your (Jordan) loyal subjects in your country and those in other parts of the Arab world deserve to be treated respectfully and wtih honor."
Tunnicliffe commended Jordan's effort for interfaith peace in the country, which has allowed thousands of persecuted Christians from neighboring Middle East countries to take refuge there. The global evangelical leader said he was grateful that Christians can worship safely in Jordan.
He continued, "It is a mistake to think that restricting the freedom of some will guarantee more stability within a society. Stability and prosperity do not come from oppression and violence; power that is secured by aggression and imprisonment of minority voices is shaky and unstable power.
"The plight of Arab Christians must be a priority for Muslims, too. Christians who enjoy freedom in the Middle East will be better able to contribute to a society in which Muslims will also thrive and prosper."
He concluded, "We pray that Jordan can be the example for the rest of the region and the world for collaboration and peaceful coexistence between peoples of all faith, and we pledge our support for seeking ways of peace and freedom for all."
Jordan's King Abdullah II also delivered remarks at the conference. As reported by The Jordan Times, Abdullah stressed the need for cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
"Our region is undergoing a state of violence and intra-religious, sectarian, as well as ideological conflicts," said Abdullah.
"These common challenges and difficulties, that we face as Muslims and Christians, necessitate concerted efforts and full cooperation among us all to overcome. We should agree on a unifying, rather than divisive, code of conduct."
Abdullah also pointed to his Kingdom as a good example of such interfaith cooperation, stating that "Jordan constitutes a unique model of coexistence and fraternity between Muslims and Christians."
"We also believe that the protection of the rights of Christians is a duty rather than a favor. Arab Christians have played a key role in building Arab societies, and defending the just causes of our nation," said Abdullah.
"Arab Christians are the closest to understanding Islam and its true values. We call upon them at this stage to defend Islam, which is subject to a lot of injustice because some are ignorant of the essence of this faith, which preaches tolerance and moderation, and rejects extremism and isolationism."
According to Open Doors USA, as a politically stable constitutional monarchy, Jordan provides "a certain amount of freedom for traditional Christians."
"There is relative tolerance for Muslim-background believers; however, leaving Islam is not officially recognized and public evangelisation of Muslims is against government policy," reads the entry for Jordan on Open Doors' website.
Over the past several years, Christian refugees have fled to Jordan from places like Syria, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories.