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Welby: Church cannot intervene

20 December 2013

By a staff reporter


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."

Read full interview

Question of the week: Is the Church currently able to do more to bring peace in the Middle East? 

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 Jordan.

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 Christ.

"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 further."

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 communities.

"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 faith communities".

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."

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