From the beginning of his papacy Pope Francis hasn’t hesitated to jump into the bloody politics of the Middle East, starting with his September 2013 appeal for a day of fasting and prayer to protest the planned US military strikes on Syria. Since then he has recognized the Armenian slaughter of 1915 as a genocide and repeatedly called for peace in the region, all in the name of defusing conflicts that threaten to tear apart a rich mosaic of cultures in which Christians once thrived.
“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for [2,000] years,” The New York Times quoted the pope as saying during his visit to Turkey last year.
At other times Francis has sought to highlight the importance of religious and ethnic diversity more broadly. Nassif Hitti, the Arab League ambassador to Rome and the Vatican, said his goal has been to seek solutions to long-simmering conflicts that have fueled extremism and religious intolerance throughout the region.
“There is a feeling that the situation in the Levant is extremely dangerous for minorities, and the Vatican has responsibilities — not only spiritual responsibilities, but also as a state with relations with everybody,” said Hitti, also an Al-Monitor board member. “Of course the pope is extremely assertive on these issues, indicating and underlying all the time the dangers that the perpetuation of the current situation could lead to catastrophe.”