Patriarchs Set to Meet With President Obama Over Christian Persecution by ISIS

Patriarch Beshara Rai holds a mass in Diman, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
Patriarch Beshara Rai holds a mass in Diman, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

Arrangements are underway to set a meeting between Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and Eastern patriarchs and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington to discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, officials in Bkirki said Sunday.

Rai is scheduled to leave for Washington Monday at the head of a delegation of Eastern Church patriarchs to attend a three-day conference on protecting the Christian presence in the Levant in the face of mounting threats posed to the community by ISIS and other takfiri groups in Syria and Iraq.

The “Defending the Middle East Christians” conference, sponsored by an American NGO from Sept. 9 to 11, will draw senior Middle Eastern Christian figures and American officials to Washington, D.C.

“Arrangements in principle are being made for a meeting between President Obama and Patriarch Rai and the Eastern Church patriarchs at the end of the conference,” Walid Ghayyad, a spokesman for Rai, told The Daily Star.

“During the meeting, Patriarch Rai will stress the international community’s role in putting an end to the wave of violence and wars sweeping across the region,” he said.

A senior source in Bkirki said Rai would underline during talks with Obama the need for protecting the Christians through “halting the financing of ISIS and other terrorist movements” blamed for the displacement and killing of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

“Patriarch Rai will call for helping countries to stop the expansion of ISIS and other takfiri organizations in the region. He will also stress that protecting the Christians cannot be achieved through encouraging them to emigrate to European countries,” the source told The Daily Star.

The first day of the conference will take place at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C., followed by two days at the Capitol building, where Rai and his colleagues will hold talks with U.S. senators and attend lectures on human rights and freedom of belief.

The delegation of patriarchs includes Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako.

Rai headed a delegation of Eastern patriarchs to Iraq last month to show support and solidarity with Iraqi Christians suffering at the hands of ISIS militants in the northern city of Mosul.

Earlier Sunday, Rai urged Lebanon’s Christian politicians to incorporate Christian values into their political performance and immediately elect a new president.

“We expect a biblical voice from Christian politicians to pull the country out of the presidential vacuum and paralyzed institutions,” Rai said in his Sunday Mass in Bkirki. “We expect them [Christian MPs] to take new initiatives that will lead to the election of a new president as soon as possible because it is the only thing that can guarantee national unity.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea called on Lebanon’s Christians not to be intimidated by ISIS, which he described as “a cancerous tumor.”

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SOURCE: The Daily Star – Hussein Dakroub

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