Christianity at risk of dying out in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Orthodox Church leader warns

His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem IISyriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch

Christianity is in danger of disappearing across entire countries in the Middle East, the land of its birth, according to a senior Orthodox Church leader.

There have been repeated warnings about the decline of Christianity in Iraq under the Islamic State onslaught. Eight in ten Christians have left Iraq since 2003.

But the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Ignatius Aphrem II, has now warned that Christianity is also at risk of disappearing in Syria and Lebanon.

The massive decline of the Christian population in Turkey from 3.5m to 150,000 in the last 100 years alone could be repeated in Syria and Lebanon, he warned. 

"I am worried that Christianity is on the way out both in Syria and Iraq as well as in Lebanon," he told John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity which provides emergency help and spiritual support for Christians worldwide.

Already, in Syria, half of the Christians are either displaced or have fled abroad. Many are also fleeing Lebanon where there is terrible poverty.

The Patriarch, whose church numbers five million worldwide, also called on Europe's leaders to be more active in stopping radicalised Muslims entering their countries, warning against those who reject Western values and want Sharia law widely implemented.

Pope Francis (R) talks with Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, during a meeting at the Vatican, on June 19, 2015.Reuters

"There should be a way of screening those who come to Europe so that they do not embrace extremist ideology. I do not know how this should happen but it is necessary and should be done without infringing the rights of those who are peace-loving and law-abiding," he said.

"Then there are those from Europe who go to Syria and elsewhere to wage jihad and who then come back from their countries. Europe has to be prepared for that."

Patriarch Aphrem will be the guest-of-honour at the UK launch of the charity's Religious Freedom in the World report in London in November.