The Archbishop of Westminster has called on world leaders to work “harder than ever” to bring to an end the terrible conflict in the Middle East which threatens to wipe out Christianity in the land of its birth.

Writing of the extreme poverty of the millions of refugees from Syria and elsewhere who have suffered “a loss of life and hope” he pleads for the conflict to be brought to a swift and peaceful conclusion.

“Many Christian communities in the area are more than a thousand years old. And they are crying out for help,” he writes.

He refers specifically to a Christian woman who fled the Ninevah plain in Iraq to escape Islamic State and reached the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. Her new home is a temporary cabin in the grounds of a church, decorated with icons and other holy images. 

“This process of rebuilding – of houses, places of worship and infrastructure – will have to be a major priority when peace returns to these war-torn towns and villages.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said there many stories of interfaith goodwill. “Someone who had just returned from the region of Homs even told me that in the village of Qara – to which Christians have returned to find their churches destroyed by Isil – Christmas will now be celebrated in the local mosque. Later, in a show of reciprocated generosity, the birth of the Prophet Mohammed will be celebrated in the rebuilt church.”

Mercy is a key attribute of God in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, he says. “This is why Jesus comes to us not in a palace or in a motorcade, but in a stable. He sets himself above nobody. He is in reach of every person. We do not have to climb a great staircase to meet Him. Rather, we have to climb down that He may lift us up. We cannot receive His gift of mercy if our hands are clenched in a fist or our hearts filled with our own importance.”