John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
The leader of Catholics in Syria has hit out at all countries which send in arms, saying that the impact of military shipments is “far more dangerous” than the use of chemical weapons.
While issuing an unequivocal condemnation of the “destructive” use of chemical weapons, Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch said that armed military support – including intelligence – coming from outside the country remained the most serious threat.
In a statement issued to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios, who last week spoke out against armed intervention by the West, said that his country’s death toll, displacement crisis and infrastructure devastation was the direct fault of military hardware sent from outside Syria following the March 2011 start of the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.
Like a destructive new flood
Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria as well as Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Gregorios wrote: “…For the last 2½ years, Eastern and Western countries have not stopped sending weapons, money, military experts, secret service agents and Salafist fundamentalist armed gangs of thugs and criminals…They have fallen on Syria like a destructive new flood, far more dangerous even than destructive chemical weapons, whose use on our Syrian soil we reject on any pretext whatever.”
He said the weapons and their impact “have caused” the deaths of 100,000 Syrians, the displacement of millions of others, the destruction of thousands of villages and harm to the futures of millions of young people.
Renewing his opposition to military intervention by the West, the Patriarch stressed the need for peace talks, stating: “Contrary to the calls to arms, attacks and military interventions, we enjoy listening to appeals from around the world aimed at creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, dialogue, humanitarian solidarity, hope, forgiveness and finally peace.”
Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end of all arms shipments to Syria from all international sources echoes a similar call made in January by Beirut-based Cardinal Bechara Boulos Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.
Accusations of foreign military aid and intelligence entering Syria date back many months.
On Saturday (31st August), Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faysal al-Mikdad accused Saudi Arabia of being “the main player” responsible for financing and arming terrorist groups operating in Syria.
It comes as other reports state that President Assad has been increasing the purchase of arms from Russia, with more sightings of ships travelling to Syria from a Ukrainian port used by Russia’s armed export monopoly.
Prayer launched around the world
Last week, Patriarch Gregorios spoke out against armed intervention by the West in Syria, stating that it would “fuel hatred, criminality and fundamentalism.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service, he said: “Surely military engagement will spread like a world war.”
In his statement, Patriarch Gregorios said that prayer campaigns were taking place across Syria – in churches, homes and youth movements.
He stated: “We join in the calls for prayer that have been launched around the world for peace in Syria, as that is the real movement for solidarity with Syria.
Patriarch Gregorios praised Pope Francis’ appeal for peace which is set to climax on Saturday (7th September) with a day of fasting and prayer for Syria led by the Pontiff.
ACN announced a week of prayer for peace in Syria, which started on Friday (30th August) and involving the charity’s 17 national offices around the world.
Father Martin Barta, ACN’s international spiritual assistant thanked the Holy Father for his prayer and fasting initiative. He said: “Having received support for our prayer campaign from many quarters throughout the world, we regard it as a sign of God and of divine providence that we may now, in union with the Holy Father and the universal church, conclude the week of prayer for Syria with a global day of prayer for peace.”