Syrian Patriarchs urge faithful to work with Muslim neighbors in struggle against extremism

"Our [Muslim] partners are aware of your sufferings and sympathize."

By Clare Creegan and John Pontifex

NEW YORK—Charging that extremism hurts all faiths, Syrian Patriarchs have called on their faithful to forge closer ties with Muslims combatting Islamist ideologies. saying that extremism threatens people of all faiths.

In a joint pastoral message issued during their meeting in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the five Patriarchs of Antioch—Melkite Greek Catholic Gregorios III; Syrian Orthodox Ignatius Afrem II; Greek Orthodox John X; Maronite Beshara Boutros Al Rai and Syrian Catholic Joseph III Younan—said that most Muslims in the region oppose the fundamentalist Sunni Muslim ideology which condemns liberalizing influences within Islam and encourages the use of violence.

Patriarchs of Antioch

The Patriarchs stated: “Our [Muslim] partners are aware of your sufferings and sympathize.” Calling on Christians to “remain on very good terms with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” the Church leaders added that many local Muslims “are working with their leaders to confront and completely eradicate Takfiri thought,” a reference to the messianic strain of extremist Islam that drives ISIS and other jihadist groups.

“It is high time to confront Takfiri ideology, to dry out its well-springs by offering the kind of religious education that encourages an attitude of openness, peacefulness and freedom of belief,” the Patriarch proclaimed.

The pastoral message, a copy of which was obtained by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, was released after the dignitaries met in the Greek Orthodox Al Maryamiyah Church in Damascus.

The Patriarchs also urged their flocks to engage in the kind of “critical thinking” that aims to establish full citizenship for religious minorities in Islamic countries. All five Patriarchs stressed that violence and all forms of terrorism is perpetrated by small minorities within Islam and that the majority of Muslims are “partners in our homeland and its destiny.”

The Patriarchs’ statement included calls on the international community to help end the crisis in Syria and to find “peaceful and political solutions to conflicts.” The statement also asks foreign governments to enable displaced people to return to their homelands, reclaim their properties. World governments, the prelates said, must “protect the rights [of Christians] as citizens.” In Iraq and Syria, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been forced to leave their homes.

Addressing the international community, the Patriarchs stated: “Do not neglect this invitation for the salvation of the world.”

The five Patriarchs of Antioch: from left to right, Melkite Greek Catholic Gregorios III, Syrian Orthodox Ignatius Afrem II, Greek Orthodox John X, Maronite Beshara Boutros Al Rai and Syrian Catholic Joseph III Younan.  Photo credit: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch


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