On February 12, 2018, second anniversary of Pope Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russias, an international Catholic-Orthodox Conference was held in Vienna on the situation of Christians in the Middle East, reported the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (DREE).
Taking part in the conference were: Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna; Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the DREE, as well as several hierarchs of Eastern Christian Churches, among them Bishop Armash Nalbandian, head of the diocese of Damas of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Monsignor Joseph Mouawad, of the Maronite Church of Lebanon.
Cardinal Schoenborn opened the conference, emphasizing the importance of the Havana meeting and stressing that that historic event was in itself a message to all Christians and people of good will.
Cardinal Koch presented to the forum the humanitarian work carried out by the Catholic Church in the Middle East, in particular in Syria and Iraq. He dedicated a considerable part of his address to a reflection on the phenomenon of the Christian martyr.
For his part, Metropolitan Hilarion gave a report on the situation of persecuted Christians and on the practical Orthodox-Catholic cooperation in the Middle East. He presented a catalogue of thirty Christian churches in ruins, prepared by the DREE and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
During the Conference, Bishop Armash Nalbandian of Damas talked about the situation of Christians in Syria, where the churches are destroyed, the clergy and laity kidnapped, and where Christians have been leaving the country for seven years now. According to his information, 60% of the local Christians have lost their homes. In the only Armenian community in Syria, more than 200 people have been killed, 450 wounded, 120 abducted, 70 churches ruined, and more than 59 Christian installations damaged. He appealed to Christian Churches to help keep the Christian presence in the Middle East, including by prayer.
Maronite Bishop Zahle Joseph Mouawad talked about the difficult social and humanitarian situation in Lebanon, where there are 3 million Syrian refugees. He stressed the importance of the political and religious dialogue for the stabilization of the situation in Lebanon.