(Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville)
Prince Charles said Tuesday that organized persecution of Christians in the Middle East has reached a "crisis" point and that Christianity is in danger of disappearing from its birthplace, which would result in the world losing something "irreplaceably precious."
"It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ," the Prince of Wales said at an Advent reception for Middle East Christians.
"Today, the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in the world – just four percent of the population and it is clear that the Christian population of the Middle East has dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further," he continued.
The event was attended by notable figures like Prince Ghazi of Jordan, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
Concern for Christians in the Middle East has been growing in recent years due to the numerous Arab uprisings in the region, with several Christian groups, including the Russian Orthodox Church, warning that extremists are exterminating followers of Christ.
Even regions that had previously been considered safe for Christians, such as Northern Iraq, have lately seen an increase in violent activity, with bombings in October forcing Christians to flee the region in panic. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a number of these attacks. Meanwhile, Christians in surrounding villages have complained about harassment from police.
At the Advent reception, Prince Ghazi, who has met with and hosted Christian leaders like Pope Benedict XVI and has been a voice for interfaith dialogue and Muslim-Christian relationships, also noted that Christianity has a very important place in the Arab world.
"Christians were present in the Arab world 600 years before Muslims," he said, according to The Telegraph.
"Indeed, Arabs were perhaps the first non-Hebrew Christians in the world, and became Christians during Jesus Christ's own lifetime."
In his speech, Prince Charles said that the danger of Christians being driven out of their birthplace would have consequences for everyone, as "we all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back two thousand years begins to disappear."
He pointed out that Christians are not the only faith community suffering in the Middle East, nor is the Middle East the only region where Christians are suffering, but he wanted to focus on the church communities' current plight there because of the historical significance.
"For twenty years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding," the Prince of Wales said.
"The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so – and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organized persecution – including to Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time."
The heir to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II called on redoubled efforts from Christians, Jews and Muslims to work for truth, justice, compassion and human rights in the Middle East region, and follow the message of "love thy neighbor," which he argued is at the very heart of all three religions. He added that there is "no better time" to be reminded of this message than Christmas.
"My prayer this afternoon is for all beleaguered communities and I believe that Western Christians ought to pray earnestly for fellow-believers in the Middle East," the Prince of Wales concluded.