Damascus - “Holy Father, be our Saint Simon of Cyrene on the Way of the Cross!” was the appeal made by His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, in an open letter to Pope Francis. In this very personally expressed message, dated 29 March, Holy Friday, when the Pope celebrated the first Way of the Cross of his pontificate, Gregorios III outlined the “violence, terror, chaos and death” ravaging Syria.
Patriarch Gregorios III says he addressed to the pope “a plaintive and affectionate cry, as much as to say: come to the aid of Syria, which cannot bear such a long Way of the Cross. It needs resurrection …through reconciliation and dialogue, to bring to an end the crisis that is destroying thousands upon thousands of Christians and non-Christians.” He made a real call for help, admitting that he was expecting “a gesture, an initiative, a roadmap” from the Holy Father.
“We are expecting an initiative, a gesture and a word”
The Patriarch of Antioch and All the East exhorted “the Vatican, as a State, Pope Francis, personally and the Catholic Church, by way of the Episcopal Conferences” to launch a joint appeal to save Syria.
“We are not afraid of Muslims,” he explains, “but we are afraid of chaos taking root in the Middle East. Syria has become a highly lucrative market-place for interested parties, while every aspect of democracy, freedom and secularism has been lost. Nowadays,” laments His Beatitude Gregorios III, “no-one cares about that.”
Daily kidnappings, acts of violence and killings
Last Sunday, in his Easter Urbi et Orbi message, the pope urged peace in the Middle East and “above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed!” declared Pope Francis, “And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?”
The Patriarch of Antioch and All the East emphasised the joy awakened by these words from the pope which made headlines in all the papers. He said something “quite precise and concise, that made complete sense and touched the hearts of all Syrian citizens. We need someone from the Catholic Church calling stop; enough fighting. Every day we have new abductions and killings. Where are we going? People can’t take any more. That precisely why I made this appeal,” explains Gregorios III, “for the Catholic Church to be in the front line for saving Syria.”
• See the full English text of Patriarch Gregorios III’s Letter to Pope Francis: http://www.pgc-lb.org/eng/gregorios/view/Letter-to-Pope-Francis
• Read the news item in French on the Vatican Radio website: http://fr.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/04/02/syrie_:_gregorios_iii_lance_un_appel_au_secours_au_pape_fran%C3%A7ois/fr1-679090
• Listen to the interview in French with Hélène Destombes on Vatican radio: http://media01.radiovaticana.va/audio/ra/00365188.RM and http://media01.radiovaticana.va/audiomp3/00365188.MP3