Coptic bishop warns that Middle East is losing hope

Iraqi Christians prayed on Christmas day at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad. The Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, has been forced to leave for his own safety.REUTERS/Ahmad Mousa

More must be done in 2015 to combat the "suffering, destruction and devastation" of ancient Christian and other communities in the Middle East, according to a leading bishop from the region.

Bishop Angaelos, leader of the UK's Coptic Orthodox Church, warns that it is becoming "increasingly difficult" to give hope to those suffering gross violations of their human rights.

He says in his New Year message that much has been done to help already, but it still went nowhere near far enough.

Describing 2014 as a "challenging year" in which some of those trying to help had paid the ultimate price, he described the "extremist narrative" seeking the destruction of centuries-old communities.

Religious leaders had shown a greater sense of responsibility and commitment in speaking out against the human rights violations. "This response however, is still disproportionate to the suffering, destruction and devastation that has been experienced, and much remains to be done," he said.

"The global community is founded upon the safeguarding of fundamental principles of God-given freedom, liberty, and equality, and while many around the world are denied these rights, we who are free to enjoy them must advocate and do all we can to protect those same rights for them."

His remarks follow a terrible year for the region, characterised by ruthless murder, beheadings and wholesale ethnic cleansing of Yazidis, Christians and others. Earlier this month, Vicar of Baghdad Rev Andrew White reported that Islamic State terrorists beheaded four children who refused to convert to Islam.

He said IS has hounded Christians out of Iraq and "killed in huge numbers, they chopped their children in half, they chopped their heads off, and they moved north and it was so terrible what happened".

The Jerusalem Post reported: "Anti-Christian violence in 2014 saw a transformation from under-told news coverage, to routine reports of radical Islamists seeking to obliterate Christianity's presence." Describing it as religious cleansing or a type of cultural genocide, the Post listed Iraq, Syria, parts of Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan as worst affected.

Nina Shea, director of the Washington- based Hudson Institute's Centre for Religious Freedom, said a goal of Islamic extremists was total Islamisation. "This has nearly been achieved in Iraq, which a decade ago was home to one of the four most robust Christian communities in the Arab world."