Patriarch takes 'painful' stock in ISIS-ravaged Syrian town
The Patriarch estimated that about 40 percent of Syria's Christians have now left Syria.
NEW YORK—On a visit to the Syrian
town of Al Qaryatayn, newly wrestled from ISIS control by the Syrian armed
forces, a Patriarch expressed decidedly mixed feelings, joy and sorrow in equal
In an interview with international Catholic charity
Aid to the Church in Need, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II said: "This
is certainly an encouraging development. But the residents who had fled now
sometimes weep when they see what has become of their town. It is particularly
painful for me as someone with pastoral duties to see these tears."
The Damascus-based prelate continued: "I too am
shocked by the extent of the devastation. Many houses had been completely or
severely damaged during the fighting. He added: "It was especially painful
to see how the churches had been wilfully defiled by ISIS. Both the Syriac
Catholic Saint Elian monastery and our Syriac Orthodox church had been
The prelate said: "My main concern is to give
people hope. I told them that they should thank God for their lives. Houses and
churches can be built up again. A life lost cannot be restored. But as a Church
we will not simply talk about it; we will also give the people material help in
their reconstruction efforts wherever we can.
The Patriarch conceded that "in view of our
circumstances it is not easy to overcome hatred and to ask God for the gift of
forgiveness. It will take time for people to find it in themselves to do this.
This is only human and understandable. But we can't get round the willingness to
forgive. It is a basic element of Christian life."
The Patriarch emphasized in this connection that the Syrians
were experienced in the co-existence of the religions. "In Syria there is
no war between Christians and Muslims. What we're dealing with here is
primarily foreign terrorists coming to fight the jihad. There are certainly now
Syrians who have adopted the jihadi ideology. But these ideas come from
outside, primarily from Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabism practiced there. I
therefore do not see the reconciliation between Syrians of different faiths as
the problem here. After all, despite the many difficulties we all lived
peacefully together before the war in Syria. That was the Syria we knew."
The Patriarch estimated that about 40 percent of
Syria's Christians have now left Syria, fleeing to neighboring countries or to the
West. He said: "I have no
illusions. Most of them will not return. If it goes on like this, we Christians
in Syria will disappear, just as we have almost disappeared in Turkey and Iraq.
way to support us is to help us stay in our homeland. Moving to the west is not
a solution. Being a refugee in Europe is not a positive experience. It means
you are culturally uprooted. It's not good for the refugees and it's not good
for the societies that take them in.
"It would be much cheaper for Europe to help our
people to stay in Syria, or temporarily in Lebanon or elsewhere in the region.”
The Patriarch amidst the rubble; ACN photo