The patriarch sympathized with their concerns, admitting that if that he himself had a family with children, “I would not return.”
Another big problem for those who have fled to other countries, such as Lebanon, is the fact that frequently they are not given refugee status, he said, explaining that these people know they will “not ever be accepted as Lebanese,” and so try to move abroad to Australia, Canada, the United States and Sweden.
When asked what can be done to help Christians to stay rather than moving abroad, the patriarch said the world has to avoid letting individual countries go there “to negotiate in order to have greater advantages in trade.”
Local Christians will never be able to be protagonists of change in their home countries because they are such a small minority. Pointing to Egypt as an example, he noted that only 8-10 million of the 80 million people living there are Coptic Christians, and mosques frequently control the elections.
“We try to live in peace with the others but we need stronger interventions on the part of the family of nations to say to these peoples: ‘Live in the 21st century, not the 7th,’” he said. “There must be a unified approach.”
Younan also commented on Pope Francis’ frequent declaration that “no religion is terrorist.” When asked if he agreed this declaration also applies to Islam, the patriarch said that “it’s they who have to prove this, it’s not up to me or the Pope to say it.”
In general “relations with Islamic religious heads are good,” he said, but added that for him, this is only at the “politico-diplomatic level, to not say that there is fanaticism.”
“We meet, we speak in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Syria, but the important thing is that we can’t do more, we are oppressed by a fundamentalism radical Islam that receives funding,” he said, voicing his hope “that Europe reawakens and finds an adequate solution.”
Referring to Pope Francis’ May 23, 2016, meeting with Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb of the prestigious Al-Azhar monsque at the Vatican, Younan called the move “a diplomatic step,” but said he would have representatives at a special Feb. 24 seminar at the Al-Azhar University on countering religious justification for violence.
He said that representatives from his Church have been to the university – widely considered one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam – several times, and that with the joint-seminar with the Vatican they “want to make the world see that they are open.”
However, he also said there are still problems in the educational system of the university, including lessons in which youth use verses of the Koran that endorse violence “as they are.”
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“Some are tolerant, others much less,” he said, noting that the two men who killed French priest Jacques Hamel in July 2016, didn’t know the priest, but murdered him “because they were formed like this.”
“It’s there that we need to intervene,” he said, explaining that while the seminar is a step, “Azhar must reform itself.”
When it comes to Vatican diplomacy, the patriarch said they are already doing a lot to intervene in the crisis in the Middle East, “but it’s not enough.”
He recalled that during the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family he urged the Vatican to speak with officials in the U.S. government, in the U.N. and with the foreign ministers in China, Russia and the E.U., telling them that the ancient Christian communities in the region “run the risk of disappearing.”
The primary message that needs to be conveyed is that “you must do something and enough with your own interests please,” he said, but added that so far, “nothing has been done.”
When asked if there was talk of Pope Francis visiting Kurdistan, Younan said that the proposal has been made by several bishops, but nothing is confirmed yet.