Damascus (AsiaNews) – "The whole world saw the pictures of the Syrian Kurdish child," dead on a beach of the Turkish city of Bodrum. In view of this, "I want to make an appeal: to prevent such tragedies we need to make peace and ensure salvation and the future of the Middle East," said Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham in a heartfelt plea sent to AsiaNews.
As a pained and moved world looks over and over at the picture of the little Aylan, who has become the symbol of the terrible conflict that has torn his country asunder for four years, the patriarch addressed Western governments and Europe.
"The central issue is not taking in and giving shelter to refugees,” he said, “but stopping the conflict. Everyone must be involved, from the West to Arab nations, from Russia to the United States. This is what we expect, peace . . . not words about migrants, or welcome speeches. Never again war!"
In an open letter to young Syrian Catholics, the Melkite Catholic Patriarch pleads for an end to the “tsunami” of emigration, which threatens the Christian presence in the country.
Like Lebanon and Iraq, a wave of migration has swept Syria, accentuated by war and jihadi violence, including by the Islamic State group.
According to the latest estimates, 450,000 of Syria’s pre-2011 Christian population of 1.17 million are either internally displaced or living as refugees abroad.
In neighbouring Iraq, the Christian population has plummeted from over 1 million to under 300,000 in the past decade, and is still falling.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the Melkite Patriarch said he wrote a letter to tell young Syrians "we are interested in them; we are interested in their faith, their life, their education, their traditions and their future."
"We want them to remain and we want to take care of them, but at the same time we want to be close them even if they decide to leave. We are interested in founding new parishes in the places of the diaspora, where these young people might find refuge."
Speaking to the younger generation, Gregory III Laham mentioned "spiritual pain and suffering," and the future of the Church because "a Church without youth is not alive."
In his message, he makes it clear that "we do not want to forbid them from going away, but we also say to them to be patient and to trust. And if you do leave, we are [still] close to you."
Wherever a blossom appears in civil society, terrorists destroy it, starting from schools and educational facilities. "In Syria alone, they destroyed at least 20,000 schools,” the patriarch noted.
“Without an education, children are denied their childhood and will be the future terrorists, the new members of Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic state group] . . . This is the greatest tragedy."
Hence, the challenge for us Christians, he explained, is "to continue to be present in the region, even though Christianity is targeted, and to continue the work of dialogue with Muslims. Without Christians there would be a real shock of civilizations."
In order to ensure the life and future of the community, the Syrian Church has taken steps to support small initiatives through microcredit. About 50,000 dollars have been allocated with small amounts going to support specific projects.
"Some of the proposals [for funding] include candle making, home-made food, and setting up an oven to bake bread,” the Melkite Patriarch said.
“We also want to help families who return to the villages that have been destroyed but are now pacified by giving them at least a room in which they can start again, gradually resuming their life where they left it off."
In total 240,381 people have died in Syria since March 2011, when unrest against the Assad regime turned into an armed uprising led by a variety of opposition groups. This is up from 230,618 on 9 June, including 11,964 children and 71,781 civilians. A third of the dead are government soldiers: 88,616, including 50,570 regular soldiers.
According to United Nations figures, at least 10 million people have been displaced in the country.
At least 4 million fled to neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – whilst other 150,000 have applied for asylum in the European Union.
Another 6.5 million are internally displaced people who had to abandon everything but chose to remain in the country. (DS)