The head of the Syrian Orthodox church has said he fears Christianity is in danger of being wiped out in large parts of the Middle East.
Patriarch Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church made the remarks in an interview with Catholic charity Aid To The Church In Need (ACN).
“I am worried that Christianity is on the way out in Syria and Iraq, as well as Lebanon,” he said.
The European Parliament reported in March last year that more than 700,000 Christians had fled Syria since 2011. The proportion of Christians living in the Middle East is approximately 5 per cent, down from 20 per cent at the beginning of the previous century.
The patriarch also urged Western governments to “screen” those crossing European borders to prevent the movement of radicalised individuals.
“There should be a way of screening those who come to Europe so that they do not embrace extremist ideology,” he said.
“Then there are those from Europe who go to Syria to wage jihad and then come back. Europe has to be prepared for that.”
However, Patriarch Aphrem admitted that the approach would pose practical difficulties: “I do not know how this should happen but it is necessary and should be done without infringing the rights of those who are peace-loving and law-abiding.”
Patriarch Aphrem will be guest-of-honour at an ACN event to be held in the UK on November 24, to mark the launch of a new report from ACN. The report, entitled Religious Freedom in the World, will assess the situation of all major faith groups globally.