Tuesday, October 27, 2015

as-Safir: The Church is a Bridge for Dialogue in Syria

Arabic original here.

The Church is a Bridge for Dialogue in Syria

by Wissam Abdallah

Since its very beginning, the Church has been influenced by the political, social and economic situation in Syria.

With the country's descent into its latest crisis, the Church has had a variety of positions, from the view of the authorities, represented by the three patriarchal sees in Damascus, to the opinions of Christians which may agree or disagree with the viewpoint and role of the spiritual authorities.

An ecclesiastical source tells as-Safir that the Church's role during the crisis has been to be a bridge for dialogue between various parties and has not been with one side against the other. He adds that, "Ecclesiastical authorities have not exercised their role in the manner demanded of them. They were not a bridge to other groups, so the point of departure was not good and they were unable to effectively raise the awareness of the youth."

The source explains that "From the beginning of the crisis, there was a call to the bishops of various communities to bring together intellectuals, both supporting and opposing [the government], for dialogue and discussion and even debate, so that we could help them to accept the other." He continues, "If we look at most Lebanese and Syrian villages, apart from the entirely homogeneous ones, there are always basic elements, one of which is in the majority Christian. This is proof that the Christian community is a safety valve and open to all. What is needed is to provide humanitarian assistance to all and not, for example, to help rebels buy weapons."

The names of many monks and bishops have become prominent during the crisis for various reasons. The fate of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Alexandretta Paul Yazigi and the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo Yuhanna Ibrahim is still unknown over two years after their kidnapping. In Homs, the Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt was martyred one day before a ceasefire agreement was reached in the Old City of Homs. He had refused to leave his monastery and preferred to remain and offer help to those taking refuge in it. The priest Paolo dall'Oglio, however, was controversial on account of his political positions in support of the Syrian opposition. Reports indicate that he was kidnapped and is being held in the Syrian province of Raqqa. Priests in Homs also had a role in concluding the ceasefire in the Old City by being present in the buses transporting the rebels to the area of al-Dar al-Kabira. Monks remained in their historic monasteries in Qalamoun even when the rebels arrived there, as in the Monastery of Saint James the Persian."

The churches have organized centers to provide assistance to refugees from various regions. In hotspots such as Homs, Aleppo and Qamishli, churches have transformed into key centers for collecting aid and even provide housing in their halls.

The ecclesiastical source believes that despite the importance of what has been provided, it has not been at the level needed. It would have been possible for one of the church authorities to sell or offer some of the real estate it owns to assist refugees and provide work centers." He points out that when Pope Francis called on every parish or house to receive a refugee family, this appeal was heard in Europe and heeded in various countries, but in our region we have not heard about anyone participating in heeding this call that was issued by the highest authority of the Catholic Church in the world.

Keeping Christians in their land is the primary concern in the Church, which is fundamentally based on the "Christian people." The source explains that the foundation for this is providing a living, the first and most important step to supporting the Christians. He adds, "We can sell them words at conferences, we can give them their fill of lectures about hope, but if there is no economic effect in their daily lives, there is no use to all this talk." He adds that, "The Church is capable of creating initiatives, if it wants to do that. What is needed from various disparate groups, from associations, foundations, etc. is to help each other to strengthen the [Christian] presence and to develop a voice and integrated action. The Church must share in their suffering and sorrows and provide support for job opportunities. The Church is capable on its own of creating these projects."

Fears abound that the war will bring the Lebanese experience to Syria, with the Christians having a Christian leader, party or movement, however the ecclesiastical source states that this is unacceptable. He says, "We are not with a Christian party, but if things go in the direction of stability, then perhaps the state may call for a new constitution after Geneva 3 and call on the various religious communities to contribute to its formulation. We must have a clear vision written out for the new Syria." He adds, "We refuse to be a repeat of the experience of the Lebanese Christian parties and turn into parties that fight each other."

There has been a lot of talk about the Russian military forces in Syria launching a "holy war", but the informed ecclesiastical source, who is in contact with the Russian Orthodox Church, states that what has been said is not an accurate portrayal of the Church's position.

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