CHRISTIANS in the Middle East have not been treated so badly
since the invasion by Genghis Khan in 1259, the Archbishop of
Canterbury said on Wednesday. He later invoked the Holocaust when
addressing an interfaith vigil at Westminster Abbey.
At a press conference at Lambeth Palace in the morning, the
Archbishop said: "It took the barbarism of the jihadist militants
to wake us up. But this . . . is a new thing. There has not been
treatment of Christians in this region in this way since the
invasion of Genghis Khan in 1259, 1260. . . I think we find it hard
to believe that such horrors can happen."
He was speaking after a meeting and prayer service with
representatives of Middle East Churches, many of whom had just come
from the region. In a joint statement, read out by Archbishop
Welby, they warned that the region was "in desperate danger of
losing an irreplaceable part of its identity, heritage and
Archbishop Welby said that his prayers were with the family and
friends of Steven Sotloff, the US journalist whose beheading was
shown in a video released by Islamic State on Tuesday. Mr Sotloff
was "both the latest and most prominent victim, but also he
represents many who have suffered in that way but are
Asked about the duty of the British Government to offer asylum
to those facing persecution in the region, the Archbishop said:
"The last thing we want to do is empty the Middle East of
Christians. What Christians need there is not only the long-stop of
asylum, but also the provision of safe havens and security to
enable people to re-establish their communities in the area.
Christians have been there for longer than anyone else. It needs to
On the question of military intervention, the Archbishop said
that there was no consensus among the leaders gathered at Lambeth:
"We are aware that history has not been totally encouraging in that
area. But there are a mixture of views. Some people feel there
needs to be more intervention, at least to buy some time. Others
feel that that would be wholly unhelpful."
After the conference, the Archbishop joined Christian, Muslim,
and Jewish leaders at a vigil for peace at Westminster Abbey,
organised by Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, and World Jewish
Relief. He called the gathering "remarkable".
Addressing the crowd, which included MPs, he said: "Labelling
people for persecution is something that we learned much about in
Europe in the '30s and '40s, and we are seeing it again."
He wanted to honour the example set by Baroness Warsi, who "set
her own career at nothing in order to demonstrate her commitment to
hatred of hatred". Lady Warsi, who was at the vigil, resigned as a
minister in protest at the Government's policy on Gaza, which she
described as "morally indefensible" (News, 8
After praising the efforts of faith-based aid agencies, the
Archbishop said that it was "a moment for this to end. It must
stop. . . If it does not stop there and in other places around the
world, such as northern Nigeria . . . it will continue to spread.
It will require courage and time and determination to overcome this
The vigil was addressed by Muslim leaders, including Ayatollah
Milani, an imam from the Al-Khoei Foundation, who said that "what
is happening in Iraq is the maximum and highest degree of atrocity
done to minorities in the name of Islam . . . Our duty here is to
show our solidarity towards all these minorities. . . Whatever is
done in the name of Islam by ISIS is only misinterpretation of
Islam and its values."
On Wednesday, a letter from Prince Charles to the
Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most
Revd Louis Raphael Sako, was
"You can have no idea how heartbroken I am to hear of the truly
unbearable and barbaric persecution suffered not only by Christians
in Iraq but also by some of their neighbours of other faiths," he
"I wanted you to know above all that my heart goes out to all
those whose lives have been shattered by this terrible conflict.
Although words seem terribly inadequate at such an unimaginable
time of suffering I did just want to offer, through you, my special
prayers and profound sympathy to all members of the Chaldean
Catholic Church in Iraq. . .
"It is my fervent hope and prayer that the leadership and
the actions of the people of goodwill such as yourself and your
brothers and sisters will help overcome the diabolic evil that has
wrought this terrible suffering."
In a letter of response, the Patriarch wrote that he
was "much moved" by the Prince's words. The Christian community in
Iraq had "endured massacres, atrocities and other human
rights abuses by the terrorist armed group calling itself the
"Islamic State", for the reason of their Faith. We consider it a
kind of genocide and are deeply concerned."
He asked the Prince to "encourage the international community to
preserve the lives and the dignity of the huge number of people
affected by this disaster."
Read both letters here.