September 22, 2014
BARB FRAZE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The conflict in which Islamic State fighters are driving out Christians and other minorities must not be seen as a war between Islam and Christianity, said the head of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches.

"I do not share this position and I ask, on the contrary, that it never prevail," Cardinal Leonardo Sandri told participants in the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit Sept. 9.

The Islamists are not looking to destroy a foreign Christian culture, he said, but are intent on destroying centuries of "a respectful and useful cultural coexistence."

He also said it was "impossible . . . to quell the doubts about how the vast economic interests at stake affect the conflict."

Sandri reminded approximately 500 people who heard his talk about Pope Francis' statement Sept. 8, 2013, the day after his prayer vigil for peace in Syria.

Pope Francis said: "And the doubt always remains: Is this war or that war – because wars are everywhere – really a war to solve problems, or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade?"

Sandri said people also must consider "the control of oil wells and of gas deposits, the safety of the petroleum and gas pipelines, the supremacy of one area of free commercial trade over another, and this is not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe and in other regions of the world."

This leads to a situation in which someone's personal economic interests are more important that human life, which "can even be annihilated, or at least not taken into account," he said.

Sandri said the situation in which Christians and other minorities were being forced from their homes and executed had to be resolved through the United Nations – and it might or might not involve the use of force.

"The unjust assailant must be halted, but let us not limit our thinking to the use of force – in some cases necessary – alone, and in any case only within the framework of an international agreement under the aegis of the United Nations, involving the Arab and Muslim countries," he said.

The cardinal thanked Muslim leaders – such as the grand muftis of Saudi Arabia and of Al-Azhar University in Egypt, as well as of several imams of England and Italy – who had spoken against Islamic State atrocities in recent weeks.

Other Muslims in the Middle East have offered help and shown their willingness to welcome Christians expelled from the plain of Ninevah, he said.

Private residents of Jordan have gone to the Caritas offices with basic goods or offered to pay rent for refugee families, he said. Muslim students had volunteered with Caritas in Jordan.