- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pope Francis said Thursday that the Catholic Church will not accept a Middle East without Christians, who are often forced to flee areas of unrest in the region, Agence France-Presse first reported.

“We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said after meeting with patriarchs from Syria, Iran and Iraq.

He stressed the importance of “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practice one’s own faith.”

The pope also said he “will not rest while there are still men and women, of any religion, whose dignity is affronted, who are stripped of the basics necessary for survival, whose future is stolen, who are forced to become refugees or displaced people,” AFP reported.

Among those who met with the pope Thursday was the patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean church, Louis Sako, who said, the Middle East “is going to empty of Christians.”

Mr. Sako told Vatican Radio that Iraqi authorities were supplying visas as part of “a whole strategy to help Christians leave Iraq.”

The pope called on the patriarchs for “tireless zeal and that fraternal and paternal charity which bishops, priests and faithful look to us for, especially if they are alone and marginalized,” AFP reported.

• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at jchasmar@washingtontimes.com.

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