“Everything is fire, killing, bombarding, from Libya to Syria to Iraq to Yemen, to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain… it’s not a spring,” Archbishop Thomas Meram told Vatican Radio.
It is hard to say whether there is hope for justice and equity in the Middle East, Meram said. “I don’t think the Arab Spring – I would say Arab Winter – there’s no Spring.”
Meram is Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Urmya, and Deputy President of the Iranian Bishops Conference.
The persecution goes back “1400 years,” to the origins of Islam, Meram said.
Meram was invited to Rome by Pope Francis, who convened a meeting of Cardinals on Monday to address the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
Pope Francis said he wanted to dedicate this meeting to an “issue that is close to my heart,” namely the Middle East and, in particular, the situation of Christians in the region.
In his address to the gathering, Francis expressed his distress over the predicament of many Christian believers who are finding it harder and harder to remain in the Middle East. “We cannot resign ourselves to thinking about the Middle East without Christians,” the Pope said, “who for two thousand years have confessed the name of Jesus.”
“Recent events, especially in Iraq and Syria, are very troubling,” the Pope said. “We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable dimensions. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have had to leave their homes in a brutal way.”
Francis went on to say that it seems that many have lost “an awareness of the value of human life. It seems as if the person no longer matters and can be sacrificed to other interests. And unfortunately all of that meets with so much indifference.”
Commenting on the same theme, Archbishop Meram said that “a Middle East without its Christians would be like a garden without flowers.”
It does not help that Christians have been described as “kaafir” or infidels for the last fourteen hundred years, says Meram. “That’s not good.”
But the situation in the Middle East requires more a cosmetic fix, stresses Meram. An entire change of mentality is necessary. “You have to change your teaching in the schools regarding the minorities, Christian or non-Christian – to respect the human being,” he said.
The state must also separate itself from religion, he said. “And it’s very hard I think. They cannot do it.”