Jesuit’s testimony at the heart of Prince Charles’ plea for tolerance

Prince Charles' ACN video. Source: YouTube
Prince Charles' ACN video. Source: YouTube

The Prince of Wales has made a passionate appeal for religious tolerance and compassion for those fleeing persecution, citing the experience of a Syrian Jesuit whom he met recently. Prince Charles was speaking on BBC Radio’s Thought for the Day, in an address pre-recorded for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Last month, the Prince was presented with ACN's Religious Freedom in the World Report, and in his message, broadcast today, he highlighted the survey’s key finding that extremism is seeking to eliminate all types of religious diversity, He also recalled a conversation he had had with Father Ziad Hilal SJ from Aleppo in Syria following the report’s launch.

“In London recently, I met a Jesuit priest from Syria,” he said. “He gave me a graphic account of what life is like from those Christians he was forced to leave behind. He told me of mass kidnappings in parts of Syria and Iraq, and how he feared that Christians would be driven en masse out of lands described in the Bible. He thought it quite possible there would be no Christians in Iraq within five years. Clearly, for such people, religious freedom is a daily stark choice between life and death.”

ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report was launched in parliament last month, after which the Prince of Wales hosted a meeting of religious leaders at Clarence House (pictured below). In addition to Fr Hilal, the meeting was attended by Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations and Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK).

Seeking freedom to worshipFr Ziad Hilal SJ (second left) & other faith leaders with Prince Charles at Clarence House, 24 November 2016

In his message broadcast today, Prince Charles spoke out against the persecution of Christians, Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and other groups, saying that religious hatred was on the increase and was leading to a rise in refugees fleeing persecution. “The scale of religious persecution around the world is not widely appreciated,” he said. “Nor is it limited to Christians in the troubled regions of the Middle East.”

Recorded at St James’s Palace on 19 December – less than a week before Christmas – HRH The Prince of Wales’s message had a topicality and a particular relevance. “Normally, at Christmas, we think of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said. “I wonder though if this year we might remember how the story of the Nativity unfolds with the fleeing of the Holy Family to escape violent persecution. And we might also remember that when the prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina, he did so because he too was seeking the freedom for himself and his followers to worship.”

Prince Charles concluded his message by reminding listeners that, whichever religious path we follow, the destination is the same: “to value and respect the other person, accepting their right to live out their peaceful response to the love of God.”

Fr Ziad Hilal SJ works for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria and oversees projects there for ACN. He has spoken about the situation in Syria on several occasions as part of Farm Street Church's Aid for Syria initiative and earlier this week described the “total destruction” he had seen when visiting Eastern Aleppo.