WASHINGTON—On Thursday, September 11, the spiritual leaders of the Middle Eastern Maronite, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Syrian Catholic churches who had gathered for a Christian conference in Washington, DC, held an hour long meeting with President Barack Obama. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other key White House staff also attended the meeting.
At the request of the patriarchs, Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church spoke, first offering condolences in memory of the victims on the 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in Washington DC and New York. He noted that terrorism, in its different forms and expressions, continues in various corners of the world, and particularly in the Middle East. His Holiness noted that the expanding terrorist movements in the region are not only a threat to Christians, but also to Muslims and the world as a whole. As such, collective and concerted efforts must be made to combat extremism. The participation of Arab and Islamic states in this effort is crucial, noted Catholicos Aram I.
Referring to the Christian presence in the Middle East, His Holiness noted that Christians are not new-comers or outsiders to the region, nor should they be considered second class citizens, as their history is deeply rooted in the Middle East. Aram I welcomed President Obama’s announcement just one day earlier and the U.S. commitment to a united effort to eradicate extremist movements.
Following His Holiness Aram I’s remarks, each of the Patriarchs briefly shared their concerns, primarily focusing on the plight of Christian communities in Iraq. His Eminence, Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Raï, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, submitted to President Obama a previously prepared letter by the spiritual leaders.
President Obama, in turn, broadly outlined the key points of his address to the nation, stressing that freedom of conscience and the defense of human rights remain top priorities in U.S. foreign policy.
Also present at the meeting were His Beatitude, Gregorius III Laham Melkite, Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem; His Beatitude, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch; His Beatitude, Ignatius Youssef III Yonan Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; His Eminence the Most Reverend Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlaoui Archbishop of New York and All North America of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church (Official representative of His Beatitude Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and all the East), His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (Official representative of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria); and His Excellency Ibrahim, Ibrahim Bishop Emeritus of Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle (Official representative of His Beatitude Louis Rahphael Sako I, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church).