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Middle East church leaders respond to Iraq bombings: solidarity and work for peace needed

02 August 2004

Middle Eastern church leaders have condemned attacks on Iraqi churches and called for solidarity following bombings at churches yesterday.

Speaking today at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order plenary commission meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Bishop Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of Cilicia) said: "This is the first time Christian churches have been targeted. We condemn this attack and we are very concerned about it."

Metropolitan Dr Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, urged Christians and Muslims to work together for peace. "Solidarity is very important, both inside and outside the region, both among Christians and between Christians and Muslims," he said.

Gregorios stressed that "the WCC and others should encourage anything that brings Christians and Muslims together, not only in theological dialogue but also in the dialogue of life and work."

"I address my appeal to the Arab world, which can support any plan for peace, and also to the Iraqi people themselves. If they are not in solidarity, how then can they solve these problems?" he asked.

Alemezian called on international and local people to work for peace. "This is not just a problem for Syrians and Armenians," he said. "The situation in Iraq is not isolated. It is related to the general political situation in the world.

"We have a conflict, and we have to solve it - the US, the UN, all parties involved in the creation of this situation, but also local people and faith communities."

Both leaders stressed the good relations between Christians and Muslims in Iraq prior to the bombings.

"Christians are an integral part of the society they are living in, they are not newcomers. They are not there for any superficial reason," said Alemezian. "Middle Eastern Christians are the people of the land where Christ was born," he added.

They both stressed the dangers posed by pressure on the nearly one million Iraqi Christians, leading to increased emigration.

"The diminishing number of Christians in Iraq is a terrible thing," said Gregorios. "The same picture is replicated in other countries like Turkey, Iran, and Palestine. We are losing our people."

Could a situation arise, they asked, where there were no Christians in the Middle East and no Muslims in the West? This would be "dangerous for everybody," said Metropolitan Gregorios. "This is very important. It's not good for humanity."

According to news reports, at least 11 people were killed and dozens injured as bombs exploded at four churches - two of them Syrian and two, Armenian Orthodox - and a monastery.

Additional information: Juan Michel + 603 2148 9166 Melaka room +4179 507 6363