Bechara al-Rahi in Damascus for the Assembly of Patriarchs
by Fady Noun
This year, the patriarchs chose to meet in Syria (not in Lebanon) to reassure Christians of every Church in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen . . . “We patriarchs are with you,” Mgr al-Rahi said. In a plea to the faithful, he called on them not to lose hope, but pray and work for the return home of 12 million Syrians displaced by the war. He also said he might visit Maaloula.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – It is with great emotion that the Maronites of Damascus welcomed Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi Sunday, who arrived today despite some obstacles at the request of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi for the annual meeting of Eastern patriarchs.

The event has brought together all the patriarchs of Antioch: Greek Orthodox John X Yazigi, Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem Karim II, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Yonan and Maronite Card Bechara Boutros al-Rahi.

The annual meeting is usually held in Lebanon. However, by mutual agreement in order to reassure Christians of every Church, religious leaders chose to meet in Damascus this year.

"I am in Damascus every day in prayer. I carry its cause everywhere I go and with everyone I meet,” said the Maronite Patriarch to all those who met him, ordinary folks or religious dignitaries.

For there is urgency. Syria is fighting, its back against the wall. The Islamic State group, the Al-Nusra Front and other armed groups have begun to dismember it alive. Nearly 12 million Syrians have been displaced.

Arriving by road, Bishop al-Rahi visited the French Hospital in Damascus, before travelling to St Anthony's Maronite Cathedral, in Bab Touma, where the patriarchs were met by Patriarch John X, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus Mgr Mario Zenari, the Maronite Bishop of Damascus Samir Nassar, and a large crowd of faithful (pictured).

"We shall reflect together united in thought, words and deeds. Together we shall carry the concerns of our people in Syria and Iraq as well as in various countries of the Middle East where suffering occurs, hopeful that the passion of Good Friday will be followed on the third day by the Resurrection," he said in his homily, stressing the purely pastoral significance of his presence in Damascus.

Hang in there

"Many have shed their blood; many have died as martyrs, but their blood was not shed in vain,” he said. “Many also have been forced to flee. An estimated 12 million Syrians have been displaced. Their suffering has not been in vain either. God is the Lord of history, not the thrones of this world. In the East, we face absurd strategies of war, destruction, death, and the eradication of all hope from people's heart. Yet, let us be patient and not lose hope."

"I add my voice to that of Pope Francis, who does not let a week go by without praying for peace in Syria. As the world is full of evil and in need of redemption, redemption is price the innocent must pay,” Patriarch al-Rahi said.

“This is part of what we will mention tomorrow at the headquarters of the Orthodox bishopric. We patriarchs are with you, by your side, before you, with you in prayer. We bear the cause of every Christian, of the peoples of Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen and every country that suffers. We are there as much as we are in Lebanon or Rome. We, the five Eastern Patriarchs, are here to pray for peace. We pray for peace in Syria and the region; we pray for the dead conscience of the world. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Syria, so that all Syrians, Christians and Muslims, remain attached to their land, and for the return to their homes in dignity of those the war displaced. Never lose hope!"

Before returning to Lebanon Bishop Rahi might visit the village of Maaloula where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken. Jihadists overran the historic village last year, before the Syrian army retook it. Churches and homes damaged by war are now being rebuilt.