Bishop Antoine Audo
Senior Catholic Church leaders from Nigeria and Syria yesterday told a Parliamentary event of the growing level of violence in their countries and the particular threat to Christians.
They condemned the use of religion to justify violence and call on all communities – secular and state – to work together for peace and human rights, in particular religious freedom.
Bishop Antoine Audo from Aleppo in Syria and Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, addressed a briefing event for MPs, Peers and senior officials from a range of concerned groups.
Reporting on the spate of violence in Nigeria targeting packed churches, as well as security and state buildings and markets, Archbishop Kaigama called for more government action to beef up security and renew efforts to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice.
Meanwhile, Bishop Audo warned attendees of the decline of Christianity in Syria – until recently one of the last Middle East countries where Christians still had strength in numbers and influence.
The event was organised by Aid to the Church in Need and was chaired by Baroness Elizabeth Berridge of the Vale of Catmose.
Bishop Audo of Aleppo said: “I come to the Houses of Parliament today to bear testimony to the sufferings of so many of us in Syria… Aleppo, the city I love so much and where I have been bishop for the past 20 years, is now devastated – much of it in ruins.
"The violence and hardship has been something experienced directly by almost everyone throughout Syria but Christians are uniquely threatened by the breakdown of civil society and the forces that this has unleashed.
"We Christians are strengthened by the common values we share with the Muslim population in Syria and I appeal for the solidarity of all those present today, as we search for peace and reconciliation in our troubled land.”
Both Church leaders called on the British Government to use their influence with governments around the world to support freedom of religion and the freedom of worship for followers of all faiths.
Bishop Audo and Archbishop Kaigama will be guests of honour at Aid to the Church in Need's Annual Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday.