John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, Tuesday January 21, 2014 – The leader of Catholics in Syria has issued an urgent appeal to the faithful in Syria – and people throughout the world – to pray for the success of next week’s all-important Geneva II peace conference.
Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III has called on every Syrian Catholic, whatever their circumstances, to pray for an end to the hostilities that have prompted almost nine million Syrians to flee their homes since the conflict began almost three years ago.
Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (Bishops) in Syria, the leader of the world’s Melkite Greek Catholics issued a statement Thursday, 16th January, defining his plea for prayers from “my beloved bishops, all our children, priests, monks, nuns, faithful, confraternities, youth movements, families and young people.” In his statement, he appeals to the West to join him and his community in prayers for peace: “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world.”
Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end to the violence comes as latest UN figures show that nearly two-fifths (40 percent) of the country’s 22.5 million pre-war population have now fled their homes – 2.3 million living as refugees abroad, and a further 6.5 million displaced within the country. In his document, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios states: “We implore [God] to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the gift of peace.” He also addresses the mounting humanitarian crisis – exacerbated by one of the worst winters on record.
Also in his appeal, Patriarch Gregorios, who is noted for his peace advocacy work, states: “We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.” In a separate document released alongside his peace appeal statement, the patriarch emphasizes the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace, and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria.
Initially scheduled for May 2013, the much delayed Geneva II Middle East Conference in Montreux, Switzerland, is due to begin January 22nd, and involve up to 30 other countries including the US, the UK, France and Germany as well as Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia – the participation of Iran is disputed. The conference is expected to gather representatives of Syria’s Assad regime and the opposition in a bid to end the country’s civil war and pave the way for a transitional government.
Support from Pope Francis
With the hope for a widespread undertaking of his appeal, he states: “We long and pray for the peace to be Syrian though we are grateful to all those countries who are working for that Syrian peace. “The [international community’s] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”
Patriarch Gregorios has repeatedly praised Pope Francis for his September 2013 prayer vigil for Syria. At the time, the initiative was hailed as a turning-point in the bid to prevent a sudden escalation of conflict in the region with the possibility of direct Western military intervention. The Patriarch also congratulated Pope Francis’ address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on Monday January 13, when he highlighted his hopes for the success of Geneva II.
“It is unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets. I also encourage all parties to promote and ensure in every way possible the provision of urgently-needed aid…,” stated Pope Francis.
In line with its priority commitment to helping persecuted and other suffering Christians in the Middle East, in December, ACN, dispatched another series of aid packages for the Syrian people, including assistance for 215 displaced families in Damascus under the care of Patriarch Gregorios – and emergency support for people from Sadad, a majority Christian town devastated by violence in November and the ‘massacre’ of 45 of its people, as well the mass exodus of thousands of people.
Finally, ACN continues to fund the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters whose clinics such as: the St Antoine Dispensary in Beirut, Lebanon – used by Syrian refugees. The organization has also provided food, fuel and shelter for displaced Christian families from Syrian towns and cities such as Homs and Marmarita.