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CEC Assembly: Aphrem II, proselytism among Christians in the Middle East. There are groups “taking advantage of the needs and fragility of our people”

A painful denunciation of the proselytism carried out by some Churches and groups in the Middle East in an attempt to draw Christians away from their ancient Eastern religious traditions, taking advantage of their fragility and neediness. It was made this morning by His Holiness, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, in his address to the 500 delegates of the 116 European Churches who are gathered in Novi Sad for the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). Until 6 June, the representatives of the Christian Churches will be exchanging views on the future of Europe. Today, the theme for discussion was “hospitality”, and special attention was paid to the voice of Christians in the Middle East.
In his speech relayed by SIR news agency, the Patriarch thanked the Churches for what they do, but asked that Christians in the Middle East be helped to remain in their lands. “In a foreign context – he said -, it is not easy for our people to preserve their traditions, while at the same time integrating into the countries where they found refuge. It is much better for you, and much better for us, to help our people to remain where they are, that is to say, in their lands, rather than taking them to your countries”. “Churches operate in a spirit of hospitality; however, we invite the Western Churches to help our people to preserve their Eastern Christian heritage. We want our people to integrate into the life of Europe, but also that they preserve their ancient cultural and religious traditions. Of course, we thank all the Churches and countries that have welcomed the refugees, offering them hospitality, especially the Christian Churches and organisations in Europe, but we would also like you to understand that these people are very fragile and need love and dignity”.
Then the Patriarch made a pause in his speech and continued with difficulty and emotion, denouncing a matter of particular concern to him. “I would like to address a rather sensitive issue – he said as a kind of justification -, I would like to share with you, in truth, something that I have in my mind and for which we suffer. It is proselytism. It is carried out in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. There are Western Churches and groups that take advantage of the needs of our people. People of the Ancient Orthodox Churches, Catholic and also Protestant. They help them, give them what they need, but then invite them to join their organizations. Proselytism! This is an attitude that helps no one. And this also happens in Europe. There are groups working to draw these people away from their Churches, so that they join new Churches. This is very painful. This is not what Jesus asks of us in terms of hospitality. So I would like you to know, and ask for your help”.

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