DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Leading patriarchs of the Middle East meeting on Monday in Syria urged the world to help Christians survive in the region and said it was time to confront the hardline ideology of radical Islamists such as the Islamic State group.
At a summit convened in Damascus, the heads of five major eastern Christian churches of Antioch said the ideological well springs of hardline Islamism must dried up by teaching "a culture of openness, peace and freedom of belief".
"We call on everyone who claims to have an interest in our fate to help us to remain," they said in an appeal to the international community. "We call on it to take its responsibility and to stop the wars in our land."
The expansion of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria represents a big threat both to religious minorities and Muslims who do not share its radical vision of Islam. The ancient Christian community of Mosul fled Iraq last year when the jihadist group seized the city, fearing persecution.
Islamic State has this year abducted Christians in northeastern Syria, and staged a mass killing of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
The meeting in the Old City of Damascus was attended by the five patriarchs of the churches of Antioch: the Antiochian Greek Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Maronite Church. The Vatican's ambassador to Syria also attended.
"We are authentic (people) of this land, deeply rooted in its earth that was watered by the sweat of our fathers and grandfathers, and we confirm more than ever that we are staying," their statement said.
Reporting by Reuters TV in Damascus; Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut, editing by William Hardy