06/09/2015, 00.00
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Patriarchs met in Damascus to give courage and hope to a restless people

by Fady Noun
In their final message, the (Catholic and Orthodox) patriarchs of Antioch call for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis and the return of all the people who have been kidnapped and displaced. They are silent on the Syrian regime, but mentioned Orthodox Bishops Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim as well as Fr Mourad, who are still being held hostage. The Palestinian cause is critical for the Middle East. Christians are urged not to leave.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The most interesting aspect of the final statement by the ecumenical summit is not its content but where it was issued, namely Damascus. In a country run by a regime with its back against a wall, the plea by Antioch-centred Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs is meant as an encouragement to Christians, as well as Muslims, who are worried and confused, tempted to leave.

Meeting at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the patriarchs plead in their final communiqué "in favour of a political settlement of the Syrian crisis." Such a solution is stymied by the Syrian regime’s actual attitudes towards any credible opposition.

The final message rightly demonises Jihadism. Whilst viewing the international community as partly complicitous with it, it also calls on it to fight against it, or at least stop supporting it covertly. It says that it is also time to fight against Islamic rigourism through a healthy religious education, which is what a large majority of Muslims want as well. It pleads for "pluralism" but it appears to be more interested in religious pluralism than political pluralism.

Overall, the message appears subjective in the image it projects of the Syrian crisis. This image is coloured by a sense of victimisation where "others" – jihadism and international duplicity – are blamed for Syria’s misfortunes without the Syrian regime taking any responsibility for this state of affairs, for refusing to change, for the violence it has inflicted on its own people (and against the Lebanese), for the authoritarianism it has shown and the plunder of resources by the oligarchies that back it. Overall, the statement appears to be saying all that could be said about the Damascus regime but also everything the regime might have liked to have said.

Still, the Damascus summit was sufficiently innovative in its form that it made the news; the more so since some of its participants like the Maronite patriarch – and he was not the only one – had to overcome serious objections. The great danger, in fact, was to see the Syrian regime exploit this summit to its own advantage. Some stressed this risk to the patriarch. However, this view did not prevail over the purely human or more properly pastoral aspect of the meeting, far from the politics that are tearing apart Lebanon.

The five patriarchs

Patriarch Rahi returned to Bkerké "satisfied with his trip, glad that he can give new hope to the people who came to meet him," this according to his staff. The symbolism of the five patriarchs of Antioch together, the warm welcome by locals, and the apparent normality that surrounded the meetings boosted people’s morale, helping them feel that they have not been abandoned. Realistically, "In this regard, the summit was a success, but it is evident that what happened will not change the political situation," said a source from the summit.

Here are the main points of the final statement issued by Patriarchs John X Yazigi (Greek Orthodox), Ignatius Aphrem II (Syriac Orthodox), Gregorios III (Greek Catholic), Ignatius Joseph III Yonan (Syriac Catholic), and Bechara Boutros al-Rahi (Maronite).

The message calls on Syrians to remain committed to Syrian unity. It calls on the world to work seriously for a peaceful settlement to the war, one that ensures the establishment of peace, the return of the people abducted and displaced and "the right of Syrians to determine freely their own future without foreign interference." The names of Bishops Boulos Youhanna and Ibrahim Yazigi, as well as Fr Jacques Mourad, were not left out from the list of kidnap victims whose cause remains alive.

Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and Palestine

The message also calls on the Lebanese to be exclusively loyal to Lebanon, urging the country’s leaders to act sincerely for the election of a president.

It equally slams the "successive wars" that have devastated Iraq as well as the “racist and confessional projects that are foreigner to our culture" that have uprooted people.

It also notes that the Palestinian cause remains crucial for the Arab world and slams the "double standards" of the international community, and the "marginal wars" invented by Israel to continue to occupy a despoiled territory.

Whilst calling for better relations with Muslims, the statement, at the request of Patriarch Rahi, refused to fall into the majority-minority rhetoric, noting that Christians have been rooted in the Middle East for two thousand years.

"Land is identity, and how much more it is if it is the land of Christ and his disciples," said forcefully the statement. "We do not condemn those that choose to leave, but we remind Christians that steadfastness in faith often entails a great deal of tribulation”. Lastly, it goes on to call for Christian unity.

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See also
Sfeir: Syria continues to impede Lebanese development
More dissidents arrested in Damascus
Qualified support for Assad from Saudi Arabia and Egypt
Arab League summit in Damascus delivers “lukewarm” results
Amman could join the boycott of the summit in Damascus


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