Christians are being 'deliberately targeted' in the Middle East, says Prince Charles

Bishop Angaelos with one of the two icons presented to Prince Charles

The Prince of Wales has said he is "deeply troubled" by stories of persecution in the Middle East.

Prince Charles made the comments during a meeting with leaders of churches from the region yesterday. 

Accompanied by Prince Ghazi of Jordan, Prince Charles visited the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London, where he learned more of the escalating violent conflict in the Middle East.

Religious minorities are especially vulnerable to attack in the region as extremist Muslim groups have seized power in many areas.

In Egypt, members of the Coptic Church are suffering frequent violent attacks from Islamists as many blame them for the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.

Church properties and the homes and businesses of believers have been regularly attacked and robbed, and violations of human rights are common under the weakened and unstable political system.

The situation is similarly grave in Syria, where almost a third of the nation's Christians have fled the country due to fears of increasing attacks. Iran and Iraq are also particularly dangerous places for Christians to live, with Iranian Christians facing arbitrary arrests and Iraqi churches at risk of attacks.

Prince Charles met the families of Middle Eastern Christians who are being subjected to immense persecution, and heard accounts of people being forced to flee their homes, tortured and even killed as a result of their faith.

Prince Charles took part in a traditional prayer service

He later spoke out against the persecution at a reception at Clarence House for religious leaders, calling it a "crisis" and noting that he is "deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities".

"For twenty years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding," he said.

"Surely we have now reached a crisis where bridges are being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so.

"This is achieved though intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time."

Prince Charles' comments will be welcomed by individuals and organisations who are urging governments to extend the protection of religious minorities in order to put an end to the escalating human rights abuses.

His words echo those of many who are speaking out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and are calling for the international community to intervene.

Baroness Warsi recently raised awareness of the extent of the problem, saying it had become a "global crisis".

"The freedom to practise, change or share your faith or belief without discrimination or violent opposition is a fundamental human right that all people should enjoy," she said.

"Sadly too often around the world that right is denied to people of different religions or beliefs.

"It is vital that we move beyond UN resolutions into practical actions that demonstrate that violence in the name of religion or belief is never justified."

She has also warned that believers fleeing the region in fear of their lives means that "there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct" in the Middle East, despite it being the birthplace of the religion.

The Prince of Wales concurred, and warned that the elimination of Christianity in the region would be "a major blow to peace".

"Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church said: "As we approach the Feast of the Nativity, we are also reminded that this is a time in which many in the Middle East are affected by war and conflict, but as His Royal Highness highlighted today, Christians in the region remain resilient and faithful despite the challenges faced.

"With respect to Egypt, despite numerous attacks on their loyalty, Christians continue to be an integral and stabilising component of their society and have responded graciously to continued and escalating attacks, proving their commitment to a legitimate process of change.

"Believing that there is always hope, we pray for this spirit of collaboration and cooperation to be a springboard to greater advocacy for, and representation of, those who do not have opportunities for their own voices to be heard, but rather rely on us to amplify those voices."