Saying he represents a “forgotten people,” the leader of one of Catholicism’s oldest branches on Monday implored the United States and Europe to intercede in what he described as the systematic purging of Christians from the Middle East.

Ignatius Youssef III Younan — bishop of the Syriac Catholic Church, one of nearly two dozen Eastern Rite churches in union with the Roman Catholic pope — issued his plea during a press conference at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

Younan spoke as scores of world leaders gathered at the United Nations, less than 15 miles away, to find common ground on the most pressing international issues, including the plight of millions of migrants who have fled war, discrimination and economic upheaval.

“We are at a period of destruction, of devastating events that really put our future in jeopardy,” said Younan, a guest of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers. “… My people are endangered. We need a miracle.”

The press briefing came one day after Pope Francis’ departure from Philadelphia following a six-day U.S. trip in which the pontiff repeatedly urged the international community to help those who have fled their homelands.

Christians have long been a tiny minority in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Younan said, their numbers have been cut by two-thirds or more, primarily in Iraq and Syria.

“I am not talking about a story of the past,” said Younan, who was visiting from Beirut. “I am talking about a catastrophic hate of our people. … Their survival is at stake.”

Source: Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for The Star-Ledger