Pope Francis: ‘No Middle East Without Christians’

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The Catholic Church will not accept a Middle East without Christians, Pope Francis said on Thursday after meeting with patriarchs from Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said before calling for “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practice one’s own faith to be respected.” The pontiff, speaking at a time when Christian communities in the Middle East have grown increasingly vulnerable amid the upheavals of recent years, said “Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land sometimes overflow with tears.”

According to the Oeuvre d’Orient Catholic association, there are an estimated 10 to 13 million Christians in the region. They represent 36 percent of Lebanon’s population, 10 percent of Egypt’s, five percent of Syria’s and two percent of Iraq’s. Throughout Syria’s civil war, Christians have claimed to be targeted persecuted by anti-government rebels due to their perceived allegiance to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who, like them, hails from a religious minority—in his case, the Alawites.