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Syria's Christians have a special calling
"We Christians have a calling here. Without Christians, only an Islamic world would be left. We are the moving force of pluralism in the Arab world. Anyone who stands up for our presence is not only championing Christians, but also the Muslims in the region."
By Oliver Maksan
BEIRUT—Patriarch Gregory III, the spiritual leader of the Melkite Church, has warned that jihadists could gain control of Syria, predicting that hatred between the faiths would gain the upper hand.
In a recent interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Patriarch said: “It is the goal of the jihadists to sow hatred between Christians and Muslims. The most dangerous thing is when hatred takes hold of hearts. This is why we are working together with the imams so this does not happen.”
Based in Damascus, the Syrian capital, the Patriarch stressed that until the civil war began in 2011 Syrian Muslims and Christians lived in relative harmony: “We are in danger of losing this relationship, the longer this war continues.”
Gregory III reported that more than 100 churches belonging to various denominations have been destroyed to date. He estimated that up to 2000 Christians, both soldiers and civilians, have been killed during combat operations or other violence.
There is stills some positive news; there several regions inhabited by Christians that are less heavily affected by the war. “Aside from the bombing raids, life in Damascus is largely normal. The people go about their business, while schools and universities are functioning. The so-called Valley of Christians has also not been affected as much, even though they have taken in many refugees there. Things have basically been peaceful in several Christian towns around Damascus as well,” the patriarch said.
He made special mention of the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, which was hard-hit by jihadist violence in 2013, which practically emptied the town. However, “more than 350 people have returned. They are rebuilding their houses. The Church of St. George and the Monastery of St. Sergius and Bacchus have also been repaired.”
Patriarch Gregory emphasized the significance of the Christian presence in Syria and the entire Middle East. “We Christians have a calling here. Without Christians, only an Islamic world would be left. We are the moving force of pluralism in the Arab world. Anyone who stands up for our presence is not only championing Christians, but also the Muslims in the region,” he said.
Patriarch Gregory concluded by pointing out the important role that prayer plays in ending the war. He insisted: “It is very wrong to think that western Christians can help the Christians in the East by supplying them with weapons. The only solution is peace. Weapons are not the solution. Every war ends at a round table at which a solution is sought.”
ACN photo: Patriarch Gregorios III