Beirut (AsiaNews / Agencies) - "The Syrian Christians want stability in their country plagued by war, they do not support the regime of Bashar al-Assad", says Bechara Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, a week from the visit of Benedict XVI to Lebanon. Regarding Western countries who accuse Christians of being on the government's side, the patriarch replied: "We are not for the regime, but for the state. There is a big difference between the two positions." The Maronite leader gives the example of violence against Christians in Iraq caused "not by the fall of Saddam Hussein," but the "insecurity and chaos that rocked the country. According to the Patriarch, there is the same risk in Syria. "Christians - he stresses - are not pro- Assad, but are concerned about the future of the country."
The Christians of Syria, is one
of the oldest communities in the Middle East. They
represent about 5% of a population of 22 million people. In
recent years they have enjoyed a certain freedom of religion, especially of
worship promoted by the Assad regime, led by the Alawite minority (12% of the
population) which Sunni Islam considers heretical. The
government took advantage of their status to unite minorities around the Baath
party and maintain power.
"In time of war - adds the patriarch - the entire population suffers, Christians and Muslims. Nevertheless, the Christian community has suffered many attacks, such as in Egypt and Iraq. Syrian Christians suffer like other citizens, in Homs as well as in Aleppo they suffer the bombings and were forced to flee. " Bechara Rai says the violence is being fomented by Islamic extremists, which in turn represent a minority in the religious landscape in Syria. The prelate recalls the important role of Christians in the Middle East, who thanks to their testimony promote the values of peace and dialogue in the feud between the various Muslim denominations and ethnicities. However, they are still treated as second-class citizens or minority in need of protection in almost all Muslim-majority nations. "Christians - observes Msgr. Raï - are in the Middle East for 2 thousand years, since the advent of Christ, and have played an important role in their respective countries, the same as Muslims."
The patriarch concludes by reaffirming the leading role of Lebanon as a symbol of unity between the various faiths. A coexistence threatened by continued divisions between Sunnis and Shiites fomented by the Syrian conflict. "Building unity - he says - is not a magic spell." For the bishop, the Pope will focus his visit especially the message of coexistence to all Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, represented by Lebanon. "