Prot. N° 165/2013D
8 April 2013
On Holy Friday, 29 March 2013, I made an appeal (the text of which is attached) to His Holiness, Pope Francis of Rome.
Today, I am making an appeal to the whole world, especially to the Heads of State of Arab countries, Western and Eastern Europe, North and South America, and to international organisations and Nobel Peace Prize winners.
I am making this same appeal as an Arab Syrian national and Greek Catholic Christian Patriarch resident in Damascus.
Syria is experiencing a lengthy, painful, bloody way of the cross stretching over all the country’s roads. All Muslim and Christian Syrians, both government and opposition, and armed groups from every quarter have all been carrying the same cross for over two years. Suffering has gone beyond all bounds. The crisis has mown down thousands upon thousands of soldiers, opponents, civilians, men, women, children, Muslim shaykhs and Christian priests.
The whole of Syria has become a battle-field. It has also become a place of bargaining and purchase of goods for cash only and in the interests of certain parties. Every aspect of democracy, human rights, freedom, secularism and citizenship is lost from view and no-one cares. Everywhere is manipulation, lies and hypocrisy: a faceless war, with faceless fighters.
There is no safe place left in Syria. You may think that it is safe here or unsafe there, but at any moment, you may be killed by a bomb, missile or bullet, not to mention being kidnapped or taken hostage for ransom, or murdered… Chaos threatens everyone, everywhere, at every moment.
Dangers loom over all citizens, especially civilians, due to the destabilisation and chaos of residential districts in many areas (Homs and environs, Aleppo, the Damascus suburbs, my native town of Daraya), caused by the exploitation, particularly of Christians, but also of various religious groups.
There is also the danger for individuals, houses, churches and mosques of being taken as shields … and the danger of religious riots being engineered, especially between Christians, Muslims and Druze.
These dangers threaten all citizens, but especially Christians, who are the weakest and most fragile link.
In the face of all these dangers, sufferings and misfortunes that afflict all citizens, we wonder whether there can be any other way of speaking or acting than that of war, weapons, violence, hatred and revenge.
We very much need a solution. Some months ago, in August 2012, we made our appeal, “For Syria, reconciliation is the only lifeline.” We shall not stop calling for love, dialogue, harmony and peace.
We are sure that, despite our woes, all we Syrians – government, political parties, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Alawites, Christians and Druze –are capable of engaging in dialogue, and rebuilding an atmosphere conducive to reconciliation, in order to go forward together.
As Patriarch, I am called, as are all of us Christians, to play this role: that is why we are turning to you.
Perhaps it may be useful to set out for you the particular situation of us Christians.
Damascus is the headquarters of our Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate and also that of the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch. Syria has about one and a half to two million Christians of all denominations. Apart from Egypt, it is the Arab country that has the largest number of Christians, even more than Lebanon.
The future of Christians in the Middle East is closely bound up with that of Syria’s Christians. Many Christians from Lebanon fled to Syria between 1975 and 1992 and again in 2006. Similarly, the majority of Iraq’s Christians fled to Syria, where many still are.
The future of Christians in Syria is threatened, not by Muslims, but by the current crisis, because of the chaos it causes and the infiltration of uncontrollable, fanatical, fundamentalist Islamist groups; they may be provoking attacks against Christians.
The threat of the worst is perhaps more serious for Muslims than Christians due to the age-old, bloody, interdenominational and sectarian conflicts within Islam.
The situation of Christians is already painful to discover: over a thousand dead (military and civilian, priests, men, women and children) and hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, internally within Syria, and in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. A fairly large number of others, (though we don’t have precise figures), have fled to Europe (especially Sweden), Canada and the United States: all together, around 250,000 to 400,000 persons.
Material losses are very serious. We do not have all the statistics yet, but we do know that some twenty churches have been damaged or partially destroyed, and a similar number of social institutions (schools, orphanages, old people’s homes), which had always been there to serve all Christian and Muslim citizens; not to mention the loss of the workplaces (factories, shops and offices) and homes of our faithful, who have had to leave their cities, villages and neighbourhoods in haste, only being able to salvage little if anything. By and large, their houses and possessions have been looted, destroyed or damaged. All this represents a total loss of several million dollars.
Entire villages have been cleared of all their Christian inhabitants (as has my native town of Daraya.)
Our Muslim fellow-citizens are in an analogous situation, but with even more serious losses, due to the fact that there are more of them than of our faithful.
But worst of all for everyone is the chaos!
On Easter Day, Pope Francis made an appeal “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! And how much suffering must there still be, before a political solution to the crisis will be found?”
We pray for everyone to heed Pope Francis’ appeal!
We are praying for all you Sovereigns, Presidents, Heads of State and government of countries throughout the world.
May you, dear friends, hear Christ’s voice: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” We pray for you to be worthy of this beatitude by being peacemakers.
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem