Middle Eastern Christian leaders condemn 'barbaric' persecution

Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has joined other faith leaders in urging an end to the "global crisis" of religious persecution.

Politicians, policy makers and faith leaders have urged the international community to step up its response to religious persecution in the Middle East.

Meeting for the inaugural IDC (In Defence of Christians) Summit in Washington this week, representatives from Middle Eastern churches condemned global inaction, insisting all nations must immediately address the growing crisis in Iraq and Syria.

According to the Washington Post, Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, Maronite patriarch of Antioch and all the East, said: "Far too long the world has stood there watching these atrocities without lifting a finger while the local government has proved to be utterly incapable of saving the lives of its citizens."

The plight of Christians in the region has been of particular concern after being targeted specifically by Islamic State (IS) militants in a bid to create a caliphate.

Last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby noted that the Middle East is the "birthplace of Christianity, and home to indigenous Christian communities that have been an indispensible part of its history".

He warned that the region is "in desperate danger of losing an irreplaceable part of its identity, heritage and culture."

The IDC summit yesterday echoed this sentiment, with Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, branding the crisis a "global evil".

"Religious freedom is not just an American right, it's a universal right," Cardinal Patriarch Rai, speaking before several members of Congress, added.

"Religious freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it, the world cannot know peace."

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, who last week supported Archbishop Welby in his call, said there is a collective responsibility to protect human rights around the world.

"The international community, those who have any faith, any sense of morals, any sense of ethics, any sense of right or wrong, cannot sit by," he said.

"What is happening in the Middle East now is unthinkable. It would have been considered barbaric 1,400 years ago. Today it is absolutely unacceptable."

The Summit ends tomorrow.