French President Jacques Chirac restated his country’s support for Christian minorities in the Middle East, saying that conditions there are “more worrying than ever before,” reported Reuters.
The number of Christians in the Middle East continues to dwindle due to war, emigration and discrimination.
"The Eastern Christians have always been a bridge to Europe and have contributed to the dialogue of cultures long before it became a major issue in international relations," Chirac told six visiting Eastern Catholic patriarchs Monday, reported Reuters.
The patriarchs were in Paris to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the L'Oeuvre d'Orient association that supports them. But they also took the opportunity to urge Chirac to work for peace in the region.
France was the official protector of Christian interests in the Ottoman Empire and has retained close ties with the minorities there, especially with the Maronites in Lebanon.
Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, said Israel's wall in the West Bank has turned Palestinian villages into prisons. He cautioned against suggestions that Middle Eastern Christians were persecuted by Muslim majorities or governments, such as the Hamas-led administration in the Palestinian territories. Pressure on them often came from criminal elements.
"There is a campaign to say that Muslims are persecuting Christians," he was quoted as saying. "If there were persecution, I would have no problem saying it."
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Pierre Abdel-Ahad asked Chirac to give visas to Iraqi Christian refugees. He said Baghdad Christians live "in fear and panic" and many educated ones have fled for fear of being killed, reported Reuters.