THE Church in the West cannot intervene in conflicts in places
such as Syria and Egypt - unless it is invited to do so, the
Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
"We would be delighted to play a reconciliation role if there is
one we can play. If someone in a viable position on both sides
says, 'Come and help,' we'll be on the next flight."
But he ruled out any peace mission under present circumstances.
"Nothing can be done until people are willing to let something
happen. If people want to fight, they fight. When both sides think
they can win, they will go on fighting."
Archbishop Welby was interviewed last Friday by Gerald Butt,
Church Times Middle East correspondent, who reported to
the Archbishop the desire of Christians in the Middle East for more
help from the Western Church. The Archbishop acknowledged the
plight of Christian communities in the region. Those in Syria were,
he acknowledged, "unbelievably threatened at the moment, by both
sides, and in great danger".
Until there was a change in the political situation, however,
the Church would have to confine its efforts, he said, "with
enormous risks and considerable impact", to the vital work of
supporting the victims, the wounded, and refugees.
Archbishop Welby was similarly reluctant to intervene on behalf
of the Palestinians. "All we can do as religious leaders,
particularly with the complexities of the history of the British in
the Middle East with the [Palestine] Mandate, is to go in with
humility, follow the situation very closely."
He said that staff from Lambeth were in Israel or the
Palestinian Territories "almost every month, talking to people,
above all listening to people, seeing how we can add our own little
bit to what is happening from other people. You don't go in saying:
'It's OK - we're in here now: you can relax.'"
Praying for the region was "not a cop-out", he said. "It's
engaging with a God who changes history. The core of our belief is
that that makes a difference."
Question of the week: Is the Church
currently able to do more to bring peace in the Middle
Charles champions Mid-East Christians
by Gavin Drake
CHRISTIANS in the Middle East are being "deliberately
targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants", the Prince of Wales
warned this week.
The Prince made his comments on Tuesday afternoon during
a speech at a Clarence House reception for religious leaders,
diplomats, and politicians. Earlier in the day, he had visited St
George's Coptic Cathedral in Stevenage, and St Thomas's Syriac
Cathedral in Acton, west London, with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of
He told guests that he had been "deeply troubled by the
growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various
parts of the Middle East" for some time.
"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," he said.
"Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East, and we must
not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in
"Their church communities link us straight back to the
Early Church - as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, our Lord's own
language, spoken and sung a few hours ago. Yet, today, the Middle
East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in
the world - just four per cent of the population - and it is clear
that the Christian population of the Middle East has dropped
dramatically over the past century, and is falling still
He acknowledged that Christians "are not the only faith
community in this region suffering at the moment, nor is the Middle
East the only part of the world in which Christians are suffering",
but said that it was "worth while to draw attention to their
current plight. The decline of Christians in the region represents
a major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of
society, often acting as bridge-builders between other
"This crucial role throughout Middle Eastern society is
one recognised by many Muslims who are not extremists, both Shia or
Sunni, who attest to the fact that Christians are their friends,
and that their communities are needed."
He praised the interfaith work of Prince Ghazi and the
Jordanian royal family, saying that it was a "most heartening and
courageous witness to the fruitful tolerance and respect between
He continued: "For 20 years, I have tried to build
bridges between Islam and Christianity, and to dispel ignorance and
misunderstanding. 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 organised
persecution - including of Christian communities in the Middle East
at the present time."