Saturday, October 10, 2015

Il Folgio on Middle Eastern Catholic Bishops' Support for Russian Intervention in Syria

Italian original here or here.

The Middle Eastern Bishops Deployed with Putin: A Problem for the Vatican

by Matteo Matzuzzi

In an interview with Swiss television, the Melkite Greek-Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, praised Vladimir Putin's military action in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. As he explained it, the Kremlin's escalation "is a source of hope for the country's Christians." Putin, in the opinion of the bishop, "serves the Christian cause" and the presence of Russian troops in support of Damascus represents "renewed confidence" for the entire non-Muslim community in the region. The Russian president "is solving the problem," he added. This is a position that contrasts sharply with the line taken by the Vatican's Secretary of State, who is geared towards reducing to a minimum any tensions (even verbal) with the parties involved in the delicate chessboard of the Middle East, starting precisely with Russia and the United States, especially after the unauthorized overflight of Turkish-- and therefore NATO-- airspace by two of Moscow's warplanes. In late September, the Secretary of State, Pietro Paolin, had met with his American counterpart John Kerry at the White House.

The evolution of the situation in Syria and Iraq likely dominated that meeting, even though nothing was revealed to the press, not even the traditional communiqué drafted in order to summarize the contents of the conversation in brief. Of course, given the long letter sent in September 2013 by the pope to Vladimir Putin, at the time president of the G2, it is in the interest of the Holy See that the tensions between the United State and Russia be quickly resolved. Yesterday, opening the General Congregation of the Synod, the pope addressed the issue, calling on the fathers to dedicate the morning prayers to "the intention of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. We are painfully affected," said Francis, "and we follow with great concern what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Jerusalem and the West Bank, where we see an escalation of violence that involves innocent civilians and continues to fuel a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions."

The secretary of state himself revealed how the problem was "truly complicated" and "probably no one has the solution at their fingertips." The prelate spoke about the issue of immigration but added that "there are so many simultaneous causes of this phenomenon" and also "so many solutions that can be immediately realized and others that need more time." Tones and arguments quite distinct from those of bishops from the Middle East, including the bishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, who already last winter asked Great Britain to send its troops to the region. Paolin, however, insisted on the need to "resume everything possible, including from the diplomatic point of view." The Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sakko, currently in Rome as a father of the synod, has also taken a clear position. "In his latest book, Stronger than Terror, published in Italy by Emi, the prelate lambasted the silence of senior Islamic authorities before the slaughter and devastation perpetrated by the militias of the so-called caliphate and called for soldiers on the ground to put an end to the chaos.

"The military solution is inevitable in order to overcome ISIS. There is a need for immediate and precise action," he said in an interview with the news program Tv2000. Sakko went further, judging bombing to be "ineffective" and hoping for the immediate deployment of ground troops to Iraq and Syria. The street, in his opinion, could consider "requesting a contribution from Arab countries which know the mentality and the language." In any case it should be clear that "apart from chasing ISIS away, it is also necessary to destroy that terrible ideology."

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