The Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church have issued a joint declaration expressing pain over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa and appealing to the international community to do more to help.
Meeting in Moscow yesterday, Justin Welby and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia thanked God for the opportunity jointly to 'bear witness to our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for faith in Christ'.
They said: 'In many countries of the Middle East and Africa there is persecution of Christians, manifested in mass killings, the barbaric destruction of churches, the desecration of holy sites and the expulsion of millions of people from their homes. Our hearts are pained by the mass exodus of the Christian population from those places where the Good News began to be spread throughout the world. Christians also suffer more subtle forms of discrimination where life is made so difficult that it is easier for them to leave their ancient homeland than to stay.'
Referring to conflict in Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Syria, they continued: 'At the present moment the war has taken away tens of thousands of lives and left millions of people homeless and without the means for existence.
'The necessity for retaining the Christian presence in the Middle East and the return of refugees requires guarantees of security, the restoration of the social infrastructure and living accommodation, the setting up of conditions for clergy to carry out their ministry and the restoration of destroyed churches.
'We appeal to the international community to render speedy help to support the Christian and other populations of the Middle East. Wide-scale humanitarian aid is needed for those who are suffering and for the vast numbers of refugees, including those who have ended up in Europe and America...The post-war rebuilding of Syria and Iraq is a topic of utmost importance for practical co-operation between Christians in the coming years.'
The two Church leaders also warned that political and religious figures needed to do more to tackle 'extremism,' in passages which appear to refer to militant Islamist extremism. 'We ought not to forget preventative measures against the ideology of extremism that has spread throughout the world under the influence of militants like an epidemic,' Welby and Kirill said. 'We call upon the world's religious and political leaders to unite in their efforts to come up with an effective response to extremism. An important aspect of this co-operation is interreligious dialogue. Difference in doctrine ought not to serve as an obstacle to representatives of various religions living in peace and harmony, which are the pledge of a good future for the whole world.'
On Monday, Christian Today reported how Welby is in Russia on a three-day trip meeting with 'senior politicians' as well as Kirill, who is a close ally of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The trip mirrors one made by Kirill to London in 2016 in which he visited Lambeth Palace, Buckingham Palace and sent his 'foreign secretary' Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev to meet foreign office minister Baroness Anelay.
Welby is meeting with the same Metropolitan Hilarion as well as 'senior Russian political figures', according to a statement on the Archbishop's website.