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“Syria’s Christians have a calling”

Melkite Patriarch Gregory III believes in the power of prayer for peace

 

 

Patriarch Gregory III, the spiritual leader of the Melkite Church, a church that is united with Rome, warned that the jihadists would achieve their goal Patriarch H.B. Gregorius III Laham Greek Melkite of Antioch andin Syria and that the hatred between the religious groups would gain the upper hand. In a recent interview held in Beirut with the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, Gregory commented, “It is the goal of the jihadists to sow hatred between Christians and Muslims. However, the most dangerous thing is when hatred takes hold of hearts. This is why we are working together with the imams so this does not happen.”

Gregory further said that the war has now spread to include most of Syria, which has also deeply affected Christians. “Approximately 450,000 Christians have been forced to leave their homes and have become refugees either inside or outside of the country. Christians are leaving Syria almost every day. We thank the Lord that many have been taken in by Lebanon. That is the country next to us and chances are good that they will return. Others try to make it to Europe, especially to Germany and Sweden, some of them taking dangerous routes. In these cases there is little hope that they will return. This is also true for those who go to Canada, the US or Brazil,” the spiritual leader of the Church said. Gregory continued by describing how more than one hundred churches of various denominations have been destroyed to date. By late 2013, there were over 91, the patriarch said. “Many were destroyed quite deliberately, especially in the region around Al-Hasakah in the northeastern part of Syria.” Furthermore, Gregory calculates that up to 2,000 Christians, both soldiers and civilians, have been killed during combat operations or by other means.

However, there are also regions inhabited by Christians that are less heavily affected by the war. “Aside from the bombing raids, life in Damascus is largely normal. The people go about their business, schools and universities are functioning. The so-called Valley of Christians has also not been affected as much, even though they have taken in many refugees there. Up until now, things have basically been peaceful in several Christian towns around Damascus as well,” the patriarch said, but then spoke of the Christian town of Maaloula, which, in contrast, has stood completely empty at times. “However, over 350 people have returned. They are rebuilding their houses. The Church of St. George and the Monastery of St. Sergius and Bacchus have also been repaired.”

St. Mayrs Church - Syrian Orthodox in HomsPatriarch Gregory sees this as an encouraging sign. “We have to find a way to rebuild the churches. However, in doing so, we of course cannot forget the people. We cannot just rebuild churches, but also have to help the living stones out of which the church is built. Many people have returned to their homes in Al-Qusayr, Homs, Yabroud or Maaloula. We have to help them repair their houses. The government is helping by taking over 25 to 35 per cent of the cost. The people have to pay for the rest themselves. It would already help the Christians in Maaloula or Al-Qusayr if just one room were inhabitable again. They could then slowly rebuild the rest. This is a very important moment for the church.”

Patriarch Gregory expressly thanked the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need. “Their material and spiritual help enables us to show people the love of God. This is very important. We are thankful that we can do this, now more than ever.” According to Gregory, the church had already started helping people in need in late 2011, as the Syrian war was just beginning, and priests and religious played a special part in this. “The clerics became a refuge for the people, for both Christians and Muslims. Everyone goes to church when they need help. No matter who they are, no one leaves without having received at least a little support.” Gregory stressed that the clerics faithfully remained at their posts. “No one left Syria. All religious and priests stayed so that they could be with their people. Most of our parishioners have also remained strong in their faith, despite the situation. The churches are full. Pastoral activities are also still being carried out, for example the Legion of Mary or our youth work. This is proof of the power of the Holy Spirit in our people.”

Patriarch Gregory emphasized the significance of the Christian presence in Syria and the entire Middle East. “We Christians have a calling here. Without Christians, only an Islamic, but not an Arab, world would be left. We are the moving force of pluralism in the Arab world. Anyone who stands up for our presence is not only championing Christians, but also the Muslims in the region.”

 

Syrian Arab Republic, diocese Damas-ARM 24.04.2005St Serge and

Patriarch Gregory concluded by pointing out the important role that prayer plays in ending the war. “I have made a call for prayer for Syria through the wonderful organization Aid to the Church in Need. Many people have responded. On March 16, we prayed at the beginning of the fifth year of the war in Syria. My role model for this was the prayer of the Holy Father Francis in September 2013. At the time, the Americans were on the verge of carrying out a military strike against Syria. It could be averted. The same thing happened again now. Prayers were said all over the world. On this day, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said that a solution could only be found for Syria by talking with President Assad. Shortly thereafter, the EU followed suit and was later joined by other countries. It is important that politics change. It is very wrong to think that western Christians can help the Christians in the East by supplying them with weapons. The only solution is peace. Weapons are not the solution. Every war ends at a round table at which a solution is sought.”

 

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