Pope Francis discussed the “survival of Christians in the Middle East” with Catholic bishops from Syria and Lebanon at the Vatican on Monday.
The pope met with Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch and other representatives of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church as the Eastern church began its synod of bishops, which is taking place in Rome June 20-25.
In the meeting, Absi asked Pope Francis to put pressure on political authorities to “draw a red line,” prioritizing the protection of the Christian presence in the Middle East.
The patriarch told the pope of the Melkite bishops’ concern that widespread poverty, low standards of living, and dangerous conditions have led to a wave of emigration from the region, particularly of young people.
Pope Francis said: “You are rightly concerned about the survival of Christians in the Middle East — I too am worried — it’s a concern that I fully share.”
The pope also noted that the Melkite church now has a worldwide presence with eparchies in Argentina, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Venezuela.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the pope based in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Absi was elected as the Melkite patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and All the East during a synod in Lebanon in 2017.
Pope Francis recalled that since the start of his pontificate thousands of people have died in “beloved and martyred Syria” and millions more have fled the region as refugees.
“The tragedies of recent months, which sadly force us to turn our gaze to the east of Europe, must not make us forget what has been going on in your land for 12 years,” the pope said.
During the meeting, Pope Francis renewed his appeal to both Syrian authorities and the international community to achieve “an equitable and just solution to the tragedy in Syria.”
“On more than one occasion I happened to meet and hear the account of some young Syrian who had arrived here, and I was struck by the drama he carried within him, by what he had experienced and seen, but also by his gaze, almost drained of hope, unable to dream of a future for his land. We cannot allow even the last spark of hope to be taken out of the eyes and hearts of young people and families,” the pope said.