Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syrian media have ignored so far a Russian proposal for a new resolution at the United Nations Security Council to find a solution to the country’s crisis. But the three patriarchs of Antioch (Syriac Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox), whose sees are in Damascus, and the Assembly of the Catholic hierarchy in Syria have expressed, in identical terms, their deep concern for the situation in Syria.
Russia has circulated a UN Security Council resolution aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria, in a move that surprised Western nations. The draft proposal condemns violence by Syria's government and the opposition, but does not mention sanctions.
Western diplomats said the proposal was not tough enough but that they were prepared to work on the document. The latter includes a new reference to "disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities" and urges the Syrian government to put an end to suppression of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association".
Meeting yesterday in St Ephrem Monastery, residence of Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Syriac-Orthodox patriarch, in Saidnaya, not far from Damascus, the Catholic bishops signed a joint message, released to the faithful and all Syrian citizens.
Interestingly, the terms of the message, except for some grammatical differences, are identical to those of a press release issued a day earlier by the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria at the end of its regular session, the first in two years (although it should meet twice a year according to its own constitution).
The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Syriac Orthodox Archbishopric in Damascus, chaired by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, with the participation of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Yusuf III and Mgr Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria.
At the start of their proceedings, the heads of the Churches sent a message to the pope to confirm their loyalty to and communion with the successor of Peter, and indicate that the meeting would not only focus on the outcome of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, and the preparation of the Synod on the new evangelisation, but would also look at the situation in Syria.
Their final communiqué on the current situation, picked up as far as Syria is concerned in the message of Ignatius Zakka I, Ignatius IV (Greek Orthodox) and Gregorios III, deserves to be cited in full because it goes against previous statements made by the same patriarchs and other prelates of unconditional support for President Bashar Al-Assad, whose name this time is not mentioned, even once.
“Among the topics that concern the most excellent Fathers, the main and most important one is what is happening in our beloved Syria, namely the events unleashed nine months ago,” the press release said. “The Fathers examined the events and what they have caused in the country and among the faithful: tragedies and sufferings on more than one level. They have expressed their deep sorrow for what has happened, their sadness for the fallen victims and their fear that the economic situation might get worse. They express a keen desire that Syria heal its wounds and that its children find reconciliation with love and tolerance, cooperation and wisdom, giving precedence to the national good above all other interests by going back to their roots, heritage, conscience and confidence in mutual exchanges to find a solution to their problems their own way.”
“The Fathers reject all foreign intervention of any kind and from any origin,” the statement says. “They call for an end to the sanctions imposed on Syria, whatever the pretext. Equally, they reject any recourse to violence in any form and appeal for peace and reconciliation of everyone in the name of God and the fatherland. They have encouraged the reforms and the steps undertaken by the government, demanding respect for the principles of justice, freedom, human dignity, social justice and the rights of citizens.”
“Finally, they have raised fervent prayers to God Almighty to have pity on the fallen, bring comfort to the hearts of those who are troubled, protect Syria and its leaders, guiding them to the shore of security, peace, sovereignty and prosperity. Hence, they call on everyone to pray incessantly so that fear may not take hold, and that hair may not fall from our heads unless it is the will of God, our celestial Father, as Christ the Lord taught us.”
Syria’s official news agency SANA
, which had initially ignored the statement issued by the Catholic prelates, released a report Thursday evening in English and French and in Arabic on Friday morning summarising the message of the three patriarchs, insisting on their rejection of foreign intervention and their appeal for an end to sanctions against Syria.