Prince Charles has said that the scale of anti-Christian persecution is “not widely appreciated” and that for many people in the Middle East religious freedom is a matter of “life and death”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot, the Prince of Wales recalled: “In London recently I met a Jesuit priest from Syria. He gave me a graphic account of what life is like for 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 will be driven en masse out of lands described in the Bible. He thought it quite possible there will be no Christians in Iraq within five years.”

Persecution, especially by ISIS, has forced many Middle Eastern Christians to flee their homes. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million to 250,000.

In the same week, the Holy Land’s most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said that “Syria and Iraq are destroyed”, and that the plight of the region’s Christians was tragic. The archbishop lamented that “wars and the way of force have not been able to bring peace and justice, [they have] only brought more violence, death and destruction.”

Last month Barack Obama signed the International Religious Freedom Act, which will make combating persecution a bigger part of US foreign policy.

Prince Charles said that religious freedom was an urgent problem around the world. “Clearly for such people religious freedom is a daily stark choice between life and death. The scale of religious persecution around the world is not widely appreciated, nor is it limited to Christians in the troubled regions of the Middle East.

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