Greek-Catholic bishops call for a united free, democratic and pluralistic Syria
by Fady Noun
The meeting of Greek-Catholic Bishops' Conference of Syria was held in Lebanon because of the situation in Syria. In a statement, the prelates call for closeness and solidarity with the victims, urging people not to forget the bishops, priests and faithful who were abducted. Noting that at least 100 churches have been damaged or destroyed, they offer their best wishes to Pope Francis and call upon people not to let "the flame of hope" die.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Syria's Greek-Catholic bishops want a ceasefire, a quick and peaceful settlement to the conflict through the continuation of the Geneva II conference. They especially "want a united, free, democratic and pluralistic Syria," in which, "everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship, where everyone lives in dignity, whatever their social background or community."

The prelates made their requests in an appeal issued yesterday at the end of the meeting held in the Patriarchal See in Raboué three years after the start of their country's civil war. Because of the latter and associated travel difficulties, the bishops decided to hold their meeting in Lebanon rather than Syria.

Chaired by Patriarch Gregory III, the conference saw the participation of Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan and the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Mgr Mario Zenari.

At the end of the one-day meeting, the bishops' conference released a statement. Citing Gaudium et Spes (1965), they acknowledged the "joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, [for] these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."

The bishops went on to say that they "grieve for the martyrs and pray for the sick, the injured and the disabled, the homeless and the marginalised." Indeed, they also cannot forget "the hostages and the missing, in particular Bishops and Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, as well Fathers Michel Kayyal and Ishac Mahfouz and a large number of faithful."

Likewise, the conference rejects "all forms of extremism, religious exclusion (takfir), murder, crime, blackmail, and any aggression against man and property." It also slams "all attacks against places of worship, churches and mosques, in particular against the Greek-Catholic churches."

Noting that "More than 100 churches from different communities have been damaged or destroyed so far," the bishops declare their solidarity "with Syria, its government and people" and support "every effort made to achieve a peaceful and quick settlement of the conflict, particularly through the Geneva Conference."

Ultimately, "We want a united, free, democratic and pluralistic Syria," they said, "where everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship, where everyone lives in dignity, whatever their social background or community."

At a time of the Great Lent, the bishops call on the faithful "to pray and fast, as well as show solidarity for the displaced, both inside Syria and abroad."

Stressing their determination, the bishops said that they would not to be carried away "by despair, dejection or fear, despite the magnitude of the test and a tragedy that is getting worse day by day."

Having "fully heard the pope's voice and his prayers for Syria, which urge us not lose the courage to pray or let the flame of hope die in our hearts," the Greek-Catholic Bishops' conference calls upon all Syrians to "work with everything at their disposal at the local, regional and international levels to achieve a ceasefire, and open a dialogue for reconciliation and reconstruction."

After addressing their best wishes to the pope on the anniversary of his election (13 March), the bishops called for the help and the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Damascus and Our Lady of Saadnaya.