DAMASCUS – Fr. Alejandro León is a Salesian missionary who has lived more than 13 years in the Middle East, and in Syria since 2011 – precisely when its civil war began. He has said that being there during the war is “ a sign of mercy and the love of God,” even though it involves risking his own life and often being close to death.

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ATHENS, Greece – Abdul rose just before sundown on one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan. The 17-year-old refugee from Afghanistan was keeping odd hours, eating breakfast in place of dinner and passing the day in slumber.

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WASHINGTON – The responsibilities entrusted to him are great: caring for about 50 shrines, more than two dozen parishes, various schools and other services provided by more than 250 Franciscan friars stationed at some of the most embattled places in the Middle East.

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WASHINGTON – There is only one word to describe the images coming out of Syria as the conflict advances: apocalyptic.

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ISTANBUL – Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life.

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QAA, Lebanon – When a series of bombs exploded in a Lebanese Christian village near the Syrian border in June, it not only changed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the lives of Syrian refugees living nearby.

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AMMAN, Jordan – Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle for Mosul and the Ninevah Plain, their ancestral homeland of the past 14 centuries from which they were brutally driven out by the Islamic State group more than two years ago.

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TBILISI, Georgia – At a brief prayer service with Chaldean Catholics in Georgia, Pope Francis pleaded with God to grant peace to persecuted Christians and the victims of war, especially in Syria and Iraq.

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IRBIL, Iraq – Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State group so that the displaced can return to their homes.

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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis said he will never give up calling for stronger efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and for people to stop being indifferent to the fate of the region's people.

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JERUSALEM – One of the last ceremonies in which former Israeli President Shimon Peres participated as a public figure took place in the Vatican Gardens in June 2014, the last month of his presidency. Along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he planted an olive tree at the invitation of Pope Francis.

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TORONTO – In just 100 days beginning last Sept. 8, the Archdiocese of Toronto raised $3.7 million and formed 105 volunteer groups in the hope of sponsoring at least 100 refugee families from the Middle East. Those sponsorship committees actually launched 154 applications to bring refugee families to Canada. A year later most of those refugee families are still living in limbo in Lebanon and Jordan while their paperwork piles up in Winnipeg.

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TORONTO – For those looking to understand the situation in Syria as war continues to ravage the country, Fr. Henri Boulad suggests turning to the final book of the Bible.

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AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan's King Abdullah II told a visiting delegation from the Middle East Council of Churches that his country has become a model for coexistence, fraternity and moderation in the Middle East.

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SEOUL, South Korea – Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, visiting the South Korean capital of Seoul, urged the international community to end the wars raging in the Middle East "fueled by foreign countries."

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