Rorate Caeli

24 Reflections and observations on the current situation in Syria



His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III (Laham), of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Syria, has imparted these reflections and observations as a vademecum to throw light on the attitudes of the local Church towards the dramatic events in Syria and on certain moral contortions in relation to these events.
Dear friends,
  • 1. The greatest danger in Syria at present is anarchy, lack of security and the massive influx of weapons from all sides. Violence is, alas, the dominant language today and violence begets violence. In Syria, this danger is ensnaring and affecting all citizens, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion.
  • 2. Christians, too, are exposed to this same danger, but they are the weak link. Defenceless, they are the group most liable to exploitation, extortion, kidnapping, torture and even elimination. But they are also the peace-making, unarmed group, calling for dialogue, reconciliation, peace and unity among all the sons and daughters of the same homeland. This is the rarest kind of talk that many do not wish to hear. We Christians, to whom was entrusted the Gospel of Peace, feel ourselves called to further it.
  • 3. Nevertheless, there is no Muslim-Christian conflict. Christians are not targeted as such, but can be reckoned among the victims of chaos and lack of security.
  • 4. The greatest danger is interference from Arab or Western foreign elements. This interference takes the form of weapons, money and one-sided, programmed, subversive means of communication.
  • 5. Such interference is harmful even to what is called the opposition. It is injurious to the just claims that are expressed more or less everywhere. This interference harms national unity at home by mixing up the cards.
  • 6. This interference also weakens the specifically Christian voice of moderation and more particularly, the voice of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria. Local Churches have made their voices heard on several occasions and the declarations of the heads of the Christian Churches are characterised by moderation and the call for reform, freedom and democracy and for fighting corruption, supporting development and freedom of speech and the promotion of dialogue.
  • 7. Nowhere in these declarations is there any allusion to the persecution of Christians, who, as we have seen, are not targeted as such. Neither is there any allusion to concepts of “Muslims,” “Salafists,” “fundamentalists,” “opponents,” “fear,” “regime” or “Party.” The declarations called for more dialogue and more reforms and participation in parliamentary parties and elections.
  • 8. The language of the declarations was always positive, peaceable, calling for love and dialogue and rejecting resorting to arms. It advocated protecting defenceless citizens and not involving civilians in fighting. In short, the declarations are very remote from extremism of any kind. Though civic, they are in no way against such and such a group, either at home or abroad.
  • 9. I don’t know what the reason is for the campaign against the leaders of the Churches in Syria and against their standpoints. I wonder from where come the labels that are stuck on them of compromise, exploitation and collusion with the regime, of time-serving, servitude or laziness?
  • 10. It should be known that the State and its leaders have never addressed to Church leaders any directive or inducement to make a statement or adopt a particular position. The freedom of Church leaders was everywhere assured and still is to this day, whether in their behaviour or their private or public statements. In March 2012, I made a personal tour of European capitals. I asked no permission or guidance from anybody and no-one asked me to adopt any particular stance. I outlined that in a paper that summarised most of my convictions with regard to the situation prevailing in Syria.
  • 11. It is possible for everyone to see the papers I’ve published with successive calls for fasting, prayer, dialogue, reconciliation, rejection of violence and avoiding resorting to arms…There are also the statements of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria and the declarations of the three Patriarchs whose patriarchal headquarters are in Syria: namely the Greek Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Patriarchs (cf. http://www.pgc-lb.org/eng/news_and_events/Nouvelles-de-Syrie).
  • 12. These leaders and the communiqués that they have published are the official voice of the Churches in Syria. Further, as Patriarch and President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria, I call upon everyone to consider this voice as the authoritative stance of the Church in Syria. We allow no-one to speak in our name or in the name of Syria’s Christians, mar our statements or label us with charges of any kind whatever.
  • 13. Similarly, it is subversive to doubt the credibility of the Church’s leaders or their transparency, fidelity and objectivity, the veracity of their sources of information or the news that they broadcast. The Church leaders don’t rely on the media, but they are in continual contact with their priests, monks and nuns and lay-people and all other citizens. They are leaders who look after the concerns of the Christian faithful and are also in contact with citizens of all denominations and with well-known leading members of the country. In all these situations they are free in their behaviour, movements and statements. They always call for mutual edification, dialogue and solidarity among all.
  • 14. On the other hand, we think that the attitudes of certain persons and particular institutions, and the press campaign, are harming Christians in Syria and exposing them to danger, kidnapping, exploitation and even death. These attitudes heap false accusations on Christians, sowing doubt in their hearts and spreading fear and isolation. As a result, they help their exodus both inside the country and abroad…
  • 15. These very attitudes claiming inopportunely to be interested in Christians can increase the radicalism of certain armed factions against Christians. They exacerbate relations between citizens, especially between Christian and Muslim citizens, as was the case in Homs, Qusayr, Yabrud and Dmeineh Sharqieh, etc…
  • 16. That is why we are inviting these institutions and persons to concern themselves rather with civil peace in Syria. Let them support the call for dialogue and reconciliation, and the rejection of violence. Let them work to preserve the security of defenceless civilians in the current conflict, so as not to expose them to danger, lest they become the target of attacks of one faction or another…and so succumb, as victims of anarchy, insecurity, terrorism, exploitation, kidnapping and liquidation, as we mentioned above.
  • 17. These reflections and observations spring from our Christian faith and patriotic convictions together with our knowledge of our Christian history and Syrian heritage, particularly with regard to living together, openness and mutual respect, despite the difficult period which our country is going through, during which relations between civilians have been abused, whether they are Christian, Muslim or other.
  • 18. Our positions and reflections spring from our conviction that, despite the abundant bloodshed and hatred that have been shown, with feelings of enmity and rancour, Syrians, because of their long history, remain experts in living together and can resolve this dangerous crisis, unique in their history, helping one another, loving each other and forgiving and working together for the common future.
  • 19. We also put a lot of hope in the initiatives of civil society to strengthen love and links among Syrians whom the conflict threatens to destroy. We pray for the success of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) movement in which delegates from all Churches are active alongside members of other denominations. This represents a foundation for effective resolution of the tragic events.
  • 20. Similarly, we believe, hope and expect the Ministry of Reconciliation, created especially for the Mussalaha movement, to succeed in its mission of bringing back unity and love to the hearts of all: it prepares the way to resolve the conflict. We place a lot of hope in the creation of the new Ministry of Reconciliation.
  • 21. Naturally, we are still calling once more for the rejection of violence and for stopping the cycle of killings and destruction, especially of destitute civilians, who are really defenceless victims, whether they are Christian or Muslim.
  • 22. We should like to state truly and frankly that our position as Christians stems from the fact that we are Christian citizens in a secular society. The so-called prerogatives supposedly enjoyed by Christians in Syria are only the universal rights of all Syrian citizens regardless of the denomination or faith to which they belong. There is an historical basis for that in the confessional “millet” system dating back to the time of Ottoman rule. The Patriarch was then head of his Church in both the religious and secular sense. The business of private Church jurisprudence developed during the French protectorate, then under successive Syrian governments up to the present one, so the assertion that the status of Christians is the fruit of their adherence to the regime and will fall with it is absolutely false!
  • 23. The Islamic world needs the Christian presence alongside it, with it and for it, in liaison and interaction, as was the case historically. This presence will and must continue. I say that Islam needs Christianity and that Muslims need Christians and we shall stay with them and for them as we have done in the past and throughout 1433 (Islamic) years of common history.1
  • APPEAL
  • 24. To conclude: As Christians we address our big appeal to the Arab world to call it to unity: the division of the Arab world has always been the major target at home and abroad. This division is the reason for the dangers that are lying in wait for the region and is the cause of the absence of a just and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict is the basis and primordial cause of the majority of misfortunes, crises and wars in the Arab world. This conflict, according to the testimony of His Holiness the Pope, of many churchmen, Apostolic Nuncios, and even of Jewish Israeli politicians, is the primordial cause of the Christian exodus. Yes, the division of the Arab world, according to the testimony of the persons cited above, has been hindering a solution to this conflict for sixty-four years! (cf. the opinion of Tzipi Livni2 in The Financial Times 13/07/2012).
Peace lies in the unity of the Arab world and the safety of Christians can only be assured by the unity of the Arab world, from which flow the circumstances favourable to living together and Muslim-Christian and inter-Muslim dialogue. The greatest danger in this field affects Islam itself when it is divided along the fracture lines of the Arab world, evidence for that being the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. This phenomenon is more dangerous than the danger that Christians or other denominations are incurring in Syria and the region.
Crises and wars are the cause of the exodus of Christians and the cause of the deterioration of Muslim-Christian relations.
Europeans, take an interest in the unity of the Arab world, if you want to help Christians.

Europeans, solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if you want to help Christians.

Europeans, work for peace in the Middle East, if you want to help Christians.

Our common destiny for us all, Arab Christians and Muslims…is the same. Don’t cut us off from our Arab community environment, nor from our Muslim community environment.
Help us to play our role and fulfil our mission in the Arab world so that we can be present in it, with it and for it…and there be as light, salt and leaven.
Take an interest in us in and because of our community environment. In your analyses don’t make us out to be intruders in our Arab Muslim-Christian world, nor agents in it, dhimmis protected by you or others than you.
Help us to be Christians of the Church of the Arabs and Church of Islam.
Europeans: don’t hide your interests behind your zeal for Christians!
We invite our brothers and sisters in the Arab East and in Europe and everywhere else, states, religious or humanitarian institutions to help us in this unity undertaking and we say: “One united Arab voice and one united Western voice can return security and safety to Syria and all the Middle East, as we walk together towards a better future.” Thank you in advance to all who will respond to this call.
We need the unique role of the Pope and the Vatican and hope that the visit of the Pope to Lebanon next September will be a support for these reflections that I’ve drafted on the situation in the Arab world and more precisely in Syria.
May the Lord of history grant us his Holy Spirit to guide us on the paths of good! Amen.

+Gregorios III (Laham) 
Melkite Greek Catholic 
Patriarch Of Antioch and All the East, 
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
[Source: Eparchy of Newton]

12 comments:

Aged parent said...

It sickens me more than I can say that the tax dollars of US Catholics, taken from them at the point of a gun, are being used to kill fellow Catholics in Syria, and elsewhere. Everyone (except US citizens) knows that the US government is at the forefront of the forces working to bring this chaos to that ancient land by supplying money, guns and other "assistance" to the rebels. Not to mention outrageous propaganda and misinformation.

It's disgusting.

Knight of Malta said...

Brilliant!

Not every nation needs to be "democratized" by force!

We, in America, tend to meddle a little too much--in my opinion--by force.

Iran is another matter, which I will not get into here.

Augustinus said...

What's the betting that this will be ignored by the Weigels, the Novaks, the First-Thingers and other neocon American Catholics for whom the Catholic faith is all too often just a mask for geopolitical ideology?

Gratias said...

Placing hopes on the "Ministry of Reconciliation" does not seen practical. Muslims seek the elimination or emigration of all Christians from the Middle East.

John said...

Imagine if our Western leaders spoke as strongly to the clearly defined and existing people called Europeans as we see here written of Arabs.

sam said...

The Kissinger Plan lives on under its new name: The Arab Springtime.

It's funny how Christians through out the world are being persecuted, oppressed, and bullied. Some through laws and violence, some through laws and intimidation, and some through laws.

Kathleen said...

The suffering of our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East is just heartbreaking.

We must do all we can to help them. It becomes difficult though given many aid agencies care nothing for the salvation of souls, and may in fact work against the salvation of souls.

So the struggle is to find Catholic aid agencies that care at least as much about the soul as the body. Using that as criteria, I have found two agencies that help in the afflicted areas.

Aid to the Church in Need

Yes, it's N.O. But it's orthodox and doing desperately needed work. You can specify a specific Program or Project that you wish to donate to. Once you get on their mailing list they will mail you about other projects.

Bishop Gassis Sudan Relief Fund

The Catholics of the Sudan are martyrs facing severe violence. They had a short period of 2-3 years of peace but the oppression and violence has started again. It's horrifying what they struggle with. Again, this is N.O., but orthodox.

I'd be very interested in other orthodox Catholic aid agencies in the troubled regions.

NIANTIC said...

Our Lord said that His followers would be persecuted throughout the world. Evil satanic men hate the light and prefer the darkness.This has been the case practically everywhere. In the Arab world by extreme Islam, the great enemy of Christianity. In the West by insidious and outright evil laws which go directly against God's Law and will destroy society.
The once powerful and respected voice of the Catholic Church has been neutralized thanks to a loss of faith and purpose. We need a massive return to the True Faith. Perhaps we ought to don sackcloth and ashes and beg God to forgive all of us and save us.Right now we are like sheep without a shepherd. Lord have mercy.

Zak said...

Many cheers to this man for his recognition of the danger associated with allowing the US and European governments to meddle in the affairs of Eastern nations.

The West is purely self-interested, and its leaders lie through their teeth every chance they get about having altruistic motives.

--Zak

OnEaglesWings said...

NIANTIC said: "Right now we are like sheep without a shepherd."

Not so.

Our shepherd is Pope Benedict XVI.

Catholics who don't recognize him are sedevacantists, and you are writing like one. Please think about what you write.

I suggest to you for reflection the parable of the shepherd who has gone for the one lost sheep; lost in a quagmire of poisonous brush, thistle and thorns, and perhaps suffers much himself. All-the-while the flock of 99 he thought safe has come under ferocious attack by a pack of wolves in sheep's clothing, as well as the wolves circling the flock from without. To those sheep, now scattered, they see no shepherd and no flock. Listen, hear, only do that which you truly know!

Let's all get a grip! We know we are looked after by our Mother and the Holy Ghost, even if the Pope is beyond our site.

Faithful sheep should be so lucky to suffer martyrdom for the Catholic faith for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!!!

NIANTIC said...

Dear ONEAGLESWINGS, I am no sedevacantist and love and respect our Holy Father. I just am frustrated and sad that the Church has seemingly lost its voice internally and externally. Everyone seems to be running around in confused circles. We need forceful leadership rather than being nice and not upsetting the apple cart lest people may get mad. Meanwhile souls are being lost. So eventhough we do have our Pope it is why I wrote; "right now we are like sheep without a shepherd". Pax Christi.

OnEaglesWings said...

@ NIANTIC

Pax.

Thank you for the clarification, but still your words are troublesome. Yet, I know how you feel.

We need to acknowledge our helplessness and trust that God will do with us as He wishes.

We really do need to accept that we are just blind sheep. One of the reasons we have such chaos is that too many of us think we know the answers and we see a better way.

So many opinions with so many solutions! It is a vulnerability we all have and none of us are immune to...

It is so easy for us to be scattered when we think we know best or we protest. But it is a pretty easy way to get lost! We must do what little we truly know and not react in panic every time something flies through our small brains.

We know where our home is. It is Rome; that is where the Vicar of Christ resides. His flock is vast and he has directed other shepherds to tend to our care. Seek first therefore, the local shepherd's help. But if he be wolf in shepherd's clothing, then direct your way and those in your company to Rome.

If the Vicar is out, it is because he preoccupied with matters of greater urgency. When there is a major crisis, we can hardly expect to be treated like we are the only thing that matters.