The head of the Anglican Church met with Iraqi refugees Tuesday during a visit to Jordan in which he called on the region’s embattled Christians to remain in the Middle East, the cradle of their faith.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Christians “are the past in the Middle East, they are the present and they must be the future.”
Two dozen refugees from Iraq asked the archbishop to help them leave the Middle East after praying with him at the Anglican church of St. Paul in Amman. Welby also met Jordan’s King Abdullah II and visited the Zaatari refugee camp.
The Middle East is home to the oldest Christian communities in the world, but large numbers have fled in recent years to escape war and Islamic extremism.
At dusk, the bells at Amman’s Church of the Redeemer rang out in welcome of the archbishop for a prayer service with about a hundred Jordanian, Iraqi and other Christians.
Welby invoked the Ten Commandments in a plea for more support for refugees from the Middle East, including Christians.
Bassam Adam, a Christian from Mosul, said he fled Iraq “with nothing but the clothes on our backs” after the Islamic State group entered the city in 2014.
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have driven IS from much of Mosul in recent months, but Adam is in no hurry to return. He said intolerance is deeply rooted in Iraq, “even in the minds of the kids,” and that Iraqi Muslims would throw stones at Christian school buses.
“They consider us as a second-class people,” Adam said. “How could we live together?”
Britain’s ambassador to Jordan, Edward Oakden, who also attended the service, sounded a more optimistic note.
“Throughout human history there have been countless triumphs of the human spirit, this will be another one,” he said. “The archbishop’s visit helps create that sense of future, hope and possibility.”