Britain’s Prince Charles paid tribute to Christians in the Middle East and their “extraordinary capacity for grace and forgiveness” at an event in London yesterday, 4 December.
At a special service at Westminster Abbey, attended by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and representatives of Churches in the Middle East, the prince said he had met “many Christians who, with such inspiring faith and courage, are battling oppression and persecution, or who have fled to escape it”.
“Time and again, I have been deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much,” he said, adding that forgiveness was “an act of supreme courage, the refusal to be defined by the sin committed against you” and a “determination to endure and overcome”.
He said he had been particularly touched by stories of those who had returned to rebuild their homes and communities devastated by Islamic State. Theirs were wonderful testimonies of “the resilience of humanity and the extraordinary power of faith to resist even the most brutal efforts to extinguish it”, the prince said.
The plight of persecuted Christians has been a topic high on his agenda. In a Christmas address last year he said “it is heart-breaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith”. He also used this year’s Easter message to call for an end to religious persecution.
‘An experience without parallel’
Sister Nazek Matty of the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Sienna in Iraq, who fled the convent in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains when IS arrived, spoke about the fears she felt when she returned but also of her “determination to return where we belong”, adding that there was a need for the healing of wounds and reconciliation in the communities affected by IS’s occupation.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude,” Archbishop Welby told her and others representing the Christian communities in the Middle East.
“Your light shines,” he said. “The countless unknown people who were killed in Iraq and Syria and those who have welcomed their brothers and sisters as they fled … Our response should be to be drawn to that light.”
Christians around the world have the responsibility to build bridges to those who have become isolated by persecution and suffering, the archbishop said.
“To live in a country or 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 without parallel,” he said.
Welby wrote in this week’s Sunday Telegraph that “across the region Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.
“Whether in large and flourishing communities, such as in Lebanon or Egypt, or smaller, struggling Churches, they need the protection and encouragement of governments and people at home and abroad, and foreign popular expression … Without this they cannot live out their vocation as citizens of their native lands in co-operation with other religious groups.”