The Prince of Wales has warned that Christians in the Middle East are under threat "as never before" and will disappear in a few years if nothing is done to help them.
In a speech at an Advent reception hosted by the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Prince Charles called for "emergency help" at an international level to avert disaster.
Leading clerics and laity from Christian churches in Iraq and Syria and other representatives of persecuted Christians were at the reception at Archbishop's House, Westminster.
Prince Charles, a long-term passionate advocate for faith groups in the region, noted that many of those present belonged to churches that link straight back to the early Church, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church which traces its roots to Mark the Evangelist.
He said: "Tragically, as many of you will know far, far better than me, this remarkable heritage is under threat as never before. Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East are being deliberately targetted by fanatical Islamist militants intent on dividing communities which have lived alongside one another for centuries."
The Prince went on to describe the "heartbreaking" impact of the cruelty and violence.
Earlier this year he spent time with three people who had been subjected to indescribable levels of barbaric horror, he said. One was a Chaldean Catholic priest from northern Iraq who had been kidnapped by Daesh, beaten horribly and threatened daily with beheading but never renounced his faith nor his capacity to forgive.
"Their heart-rending testimonies were a powerful reminder, if indeed, such a reminder is needed, of the terrifying depths to which people will sink in the name of so-called faith."
The Middle East was not the only part of the world in which Christians are suffering, he continued. He also met a fifteen-year-old Nigerian girl who was abducted by Boko Haram and forced to watch other girls being beheaded or buried alive with just their heads above ground, exposed to vultures and other birds.
It was right to pause and reflect on the plight of Christians in the lands where the Word was actually "made flesh and dwelt among us", said the Prince.
"For, despite what the brainwashed militants would have people believe, Christianity is not a 'foreign' religion."
The suffering of persecuted Chrisitians is symptomatic of a "very real crisis which threatens the very existence of Christianity in the land of its birth," he continued. "In fact, according to Aid to the Church in Need, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq within five years, unless emergency help is provided on a greatly increased scale at an international level."
Earlier, the Archbishop of Westminster warned that the Government's plan to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK risks discriminating against Christians. Cardinal Vincent Nichols warned that few of the Christian families fleeing the horror are likely to be helped by Britain because they are being registered through the UNHCR, rather than the church organisations helping the Christians.
This was causing deep concern among Catholic, Orthodox and other church leaders with links to the Middle East, he said.