An article from Vatican Insider a blog of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica
The Secretary of State says that “the majority of Muslims refuse those brutal and inhuman methods. Let us hope that the Islamic world speaks up against them. The international community should be present in the country. The Church has not been silent”
The events in Iraq “are not a clash between Islam and Christianity”, says Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who answered some questions on the international crisis for Vatican Insider last night, after
celebrating Mass for the 100th anniversary of the death of Saint Pius X. Less than a week ago, during the press conference on the flight back from Korea, Pope Francis explained that it is
legitimate to “stop the unjust aggressor”, specifying, however, that “to stop” does not mean “to bomb”, and that the decision about how to intervene must be taken by the international community
through the United Nations, rather than by a single country.
Your Eminence, what is your view on the events in Iraq?
“The Pope has already spoken up and I have no comment on his words. I think the situation is a source of great worry for Christians and for all the other minorities. We sincerely hope that the displaced can go back to their villages and that a new Iraq can be built through political inclusion, in which all minorities have a part to play and can contribute to the rebuilding of the country”.
Do you wish for an upsurge of conscience within the international community?
“The international community must definitely intervene. It must intervene by being present in this situation. It is impossible for a country in the conditions Iraq is in now to resolve its problems on its own.”
There are people who report on the events in Iraq as a clash between Christianity and Islam. Is this a correct view or is it an oversimplification?
“I believe it is an oversimplification. Recently, I have been reading some reports from the nuncio in Syria that explained how many Muslims are suffering for these events and are supportive of Christians. So this is definitely not a clash between Islam and Christianity. There are people within Islam, and I believe that they are the majority, who refuse these brutal and inhuman methods. Unfortunately, some factions make them their own but I believe that they are not condoned by most of the other Muslims. We hope that they will also speak up against this, to make a clear distinction between what can and what cannot be done, we hope that the Muslim world speaks up”.
There are those who accuse the Holy See of not intervening, of being too silent on the face of the tragedies in Iraq...
“Shouting is not always the way to resolve problems. There are other ways, other methods. Anyway, the Pope has spoken up many times, It is not fair to say that the Church has been too silent. And we are also trying to give concrete help to solve these problems”. Original article here.
Report via Iraqi News:
Najaf (IraqiNews.com) The Administration of the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf announced that it is ready to host the Christian families who departed their houses in fear of being killed by what is so called the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
The Deputy Secretary General of the Holy Shrine, Zuhair Shurba, stated to IraqiNews.com “The Holy Shrine can host many Christian families and provide them all their basic needs.”
“The Administration formed Dijla Operations Command to discuss supporting the families and provide the necessary aids for them,” he concluded.
Christian delegation visits Supreme Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf
Najaf (IraqiNews.com) A Christian delegation visited the Supreme Religious Authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf.
An informed source stated to IraqiNews.com “The delegation to discussed with Ayatollah Sistani the situations of the displaced Christians fled Mosul and the means of protecting them to urge them not to leave Iraq.”
At Angelus Pope Francis renews call for peace in Syria. Sunday 29/09/2013
September 27, 2013. Historic meeting between Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, and Patriarch John X, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
The Church of Antioch is based in the Syrian capital, so both leaders spoke about the ongoing conflict. Patriarch John X, is the brother of Boulos Yazigi, one of two Metropolitans Bishops of Aleppo who were kidnapped by rebels last April.
H.B. Patriarch John X speakes to Vatican radio, listen here
Catholic Church of our Lady of the Annunciation and Armenian Catholic Martyrs Church desecrate in the city of Raqqa, eastern Syria.
Reports from the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria today (26/09/2013) say that the al-Qaeda terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have destroyed two churches in the city. Reports state that the terrorist group burned down the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation and moved on to desecrate the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, located in front of al-Rashid Garden in the city. They smashed the church bell, burned the contents of the church and removed the cross from the dome of the Church and replaced it with the al-Qaeda flag as can be seen in the images here. They also attacked the adjoining church kindergarten.
Video footage of al-Qaeda desecrating the Armenian Catholic Church in Raqqa, they can be seen raising their black flag, removing the Church bell, and trampling on part of a broken crucifix. Now with English subtitles.
The Melkite Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Raqqa City seen here after Syria rebels of the al-Qaeda terrorist group The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) burned the contents of the church including the crosses, statures, paintings and icons, 26th September 2013. Afterwards they erected the black flag of al-Qaeda.
Happier Times Recalled
Excited children receive a visit and presents from Santa Claus at the Armenian Catholic Church Kindergarten in Raqqa on Christmas Eve 2008.
Happier Times Recalled
Christmas Day services at Our Lady of the Annunciation,
Melkite Catholic Church,
Article from the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions news service, Fides.
The figures of the Syrian catastrophe do not stop the devastating number of people who die and are wounded. In a note sent to Fides Agency, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Metropolitan of Aleppo of the Greek-Catholics, collects other quantitative data that contribute to an understanding of the scale of the disaster. "In recent months, only in Aleppo", says the Archbishop "1400 factories and shops were looted, demolished or burned, while across the Country more than two thousand schools have been devastated or put out of use, 37 hospitals and a thousand small clinics and dispensaries have been vandalized. Most of the grain silos have been emptied, power stations sabotaged, railway lines dismantled and roads blocked and made impassable and dangerous because of armed gangs that terrorize travelers who dare to move and leave town. Faced with these hardships and misfortune in which we have fallen", adds Msg. Jeanbart "we just have to rely on divine mercy, which alone can free us and restore peace in the country. (...). May the Holy Cross of the Lord enlighten those who have the power. We cannot but thank Pope Francis for his repeated appeals and insistent prayer for peace in Syria. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 25/09/2013) Original article here
France 24 News Interview
In early January of 2012 the Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart spoke to France 24 news, many of the fears and concerns expressed by the Archbishop in the interview are today a living reality for the people of Aleppo. View here.
Syrian journalist Maya Naser born 30 July 1979 died 26 September 2012
"are you Christian and where are you coming from?" With more fear to be hidden: yes I am Christian and I am coming from Damascus."
In remembering the first anniversary of the death of Maya Naser we link to this two part personalised account, from early July 2012, by the journalist in which he recounts his journey to the city of Homs to collect his friend who had to leave the rebel controlled Christian area of the old city centre.
Maya Naser was a Syrian journalist and reporter who worked for Press TV, an Iranian English-language broadcasting service. Maya Naser reported from Syria during the current conflict and had previously reported from the United States, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Bahrain. On 26 September 2012, Maya was covering the large explosions at the Syrian army's headquarters in Umayyad Square, Damascus when he was shot through the neck and killed by a rebel sniper, he was 33 years old.
courtesy of Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. The original in Arabic is from the Lebanese daily newspaper al-Akhbar and was published on
What is happening today in Maloula and other Christian cities and areas in Syria, Egypt, and other Arab countries transcends any political opinions about what is going on in this or that tormented country, whether the opinions oppose or support the political regime in those countries. The repeated assaults on Christian holy sites that are happening today and the forced expulsion of Christians is a flagrant assault on our Islamic heritage itself and on the precedent of our venerable Prophet, his noble hadith, his life, and the lives of those followed him in doing good. The destruction of churches and Christian holy sites that we are witnessing is a barbaric, pagan assault on our Islamic civilization which, over the ages, has given a central place to Jesus son of Mary and his virgin mother (peace be upon them) at the heart of our teaching, rooted in the long and glorious history of coexistance and love between Islam and Christianity, this coexistance that is one of our greatest point of pride when we express our pride among civilizations.
Any attack on these holy places is part of a campaign against Islam, aiming to disfigure this love and coexistence. This campaign is now being waged by those who have been overcome first of all by ignorance, then by blind prejudice, then by rejection of the other, even when this other is "the closest in affection to those who believed." In light of all the above and before it is too late, we call upon Muslim clerics and rulers, women and men, to join their voices with this cry, that perhaps someone may heed it in the lands of Arabity and Islam... "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul." Original in Arabic here
Tarif Khalidi is a Palestinian academic who was born in Jerusalem in 1938. He is the Director of the Centre for Middle East and Islamic Studies and a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge and holds the Sheikh Zayed Chair in Islamic and Arabic Studies at the American University of Beirut.
Article from the British newspaper The Independent by Robert Fisk about the Islamic scholar Tarik Khalidi: "Pluralism was once the hallmark of the Arab world, so the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is painful to one Islamic scholar. 'It is a tragedy and a blow to the basic pride of Arab Islamic civilisation" Read here
Article from Lebanese daily newspaper, Al-Akhbar
Nearly 40 nuns and orphans are trapped inside a convent in the Syrian town of Maaloula, where government troops are battling rebel forces, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate said Tuesday.
The ancient town has been the scene of clashes since earlier this month.
"The Mar Takla convent is living through painful days because it is in the middle of the zone where fire is being exchanged, which makes getting supplies difficult and dangerous," the Damascus-based Patriarchate said in a statement.
"The generator has gone out because of the fighting, halting the supply of water to the convent and threatening the lives of those inside," the statement added.
It issued an "urgent appeal" to humanitarian groups to "ensure the necessary supplies to residents of the convent, nuns and orphans who number close 40 people."
The convent is located half-way between the hills of Maaloula, which are still under rebel control, and the center of the town, which has been retaken by the army.
Syrian opposition forces, including jihadist fighters, took control of Maaloula on September 9.
The statement (PDF) of appeal from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch regarding the plight of the nuns and orphans at the Convent of St. Tekla, in Maaloula, 24/09/2013, can be downloaded at this link in French only.
Three days later, the Syrian army entered the town, seizing back parts, but failing to secure it entirely.
Since the fighting began in the town, most of its 5,000 residents have fled to neighboring villages or to Damascus. Original article here
His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church for North America was interviewed on the 16th of September by Boston's NPR radio station for their Here and Now program concerning the plight of the ancient Orthodox Christian communities of Syria. The interview is available for listening, and also as a written transcript, both available here.
(Remember the Tears of Maaloula)
Article from the Vatican's L'Osservatore
Romano, September 25, 2013 via the website Ora pro Syria
In Italian only. Read here
Article by Robert Fisk, The Independent U.K. Newspaper 24/09/2013
‘I met those men who assassinated my own son – and they told me they didn’t even know whom they were killing.” Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, sits in a straightbacked chair, his immaculate white turban atop a narrow, intelligent and very troubled face. His son Sania was a second-grade student at Aleppo University when he was shot dead getting into his car. “I went to see the two men in the court and they said they’d just been given the number of the car’s registration plate, that they didn’t know whom they had killed until they went home and watched the news on television.”
I ask for his reaction to the men’s confession, and the Grand Mufti puts his hands over his eyes and weeps. “He was only 21, my youngest son. It was 10 October last year. I am trying to forget that he is dead. In fact I feel as if Saria is still living. On that day, he was to be betrothed to his future wife. She was a student of medicine, he was in the politics and economics department. ‘Saria’ in Arabic means ‘the highest point’. The two men said that in all 15 were involved in planning my son’s death. They said they were told he was a very important man. I said to them: ‘I forgive you’ and I asked the judge to forgive them. But he said they were guilty of 10 times as many crimes and must be judged.”
Sheikh Hassoun holds up a finger. “That same day I received an SMS message. It said: ‘We are not in need of your forgiveness.’ Then I heard on one of the news channels that the gang’s leader had said he would ‘judge the Mufti first. Then let him forgive us.’ So I sent a message: ‘I have never killed any man and I don’t intend to kill any man but I regard myself as a bridge of reconciliation. A Mufti must be a father to all. So what do you want to kill me for?’
“All the men involved were Syrians, from the countryside of Aleppo. They said they received their command from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that they were each paid 50,000 Syrian pounds. This shows that my son’s killing was not out of doctrine or belief. The two men were 18 or 19 only.”
So each man was paid the equivalent of £350; Saria Hassoun’s life was worth a total of just £700. “I had five sons,” the Mufti says. “Now I have four.”
Sheikh Hassoun is, you might say, government-approved – he prayed beside Bashar al-Assad in a Damascus mosque after a bomb warning – and his family, let alone he himself, was an obvious target for Syria’s rebels. But his courage and his message of reconciliation cannot be faulted. In whatever new Syria arises from the rubble, Sheikh Hussein should be there even if his President has gone.
And he speaks with remarkable frankness. When I tell him that I fear the mukhabarat intelligence service in Syria contaminates all it touches, including the institutions of government, he does not hesitate for a moment before replying.
“I suffered from the mukhabarat. I was taken from my post as a preacher from 1972 until 2000. I was taken from my position as Friday speaker in the Aleppo mosque and from lecturing on four occasions. The intelligence services all over the world are the same: they never look after the interest of the human being – they only look after their own institution. Sometimes the intelligence service can be against the president himself.”
And he asks whether it is not also true that the American intelligence services do not also spy on Americans and all of Europe, a difficult question – it must be said – to deny. “Let us put aside the Prophet Mohamed, Jesus and Moses – all the rest of the world are controlled by intelligence services.”
Unlike most Syrians, the Mufti looks forward rather than back. He prays for a Geneva 2 conference. “I am the Mufti of all Syrians – Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze – of all the diversity of sects we had before the war. There is no choice other than reconciliation; it is the only way back. But to offer reconciliation, we must eliminate the ‘external hand’ first.
“And if the neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon don’t try to make this same reconciliation, they will burn – the fire of crisis will flow to them, especially Turkey. For all Syrians, we are open for them to come back. The problem is those who came from outside Syria – especially from Iraq and Turkey – who came without visas over smugglers’ trails either to meet death or to overthrow the authorities here.”
A tougher Mufti emerges now. His sons’ killers, it transpires, are not the only prisoners of the regime that he has met. “I saw men after they were arrested,” he says. “Some were in tears. They said they thought they were on their way to fight in Palestine, not to fight in Syria.”
There are times – when Sheikh Hassoun speaks of an “external hand”, “elimination” and “criminal gangs” – when one hears His Master’s Voice. And on the question of sarin gas, he takes the government’s side of the story. He quotes Bashar al-Assad as saying he would never use gas against Syrians - that if he had used it, the war would not have gone on for two and a half years.
The first major use of gas came in March at Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, near the Mufti’s residence, when at least 26 civilians suffocated to death. This is his version of what happened.
“Some of the farm labourers reported to me that all the terrorists in the area had suddenly left – the night before the attack – and had evacuated all their people. So the civilians were happy – they were civilians and many were the wives and children of soldiers – and so they went back at last to their homes. Then came the chemical missile attack. I said at that time, in March, that this event is just an experiment, that gas will be used again in other places.”
This, of course, is not a story the Americans want to hear. Five months ago, the Mufti was invited to speak at George Mason and George Washington Universities in the United States and he travelled to Jordan for his visa. He says he was asked to go to the US embassy in Amman where he was interrogated by a woman diplomat from behind a glass screen.
“I was so insulted that I decided not to go and I left for Damascus the next morning.” A wise move. Sheikh Hassoun says that, the same day, one of his sons, who was in Amman, received a call from the embassy denying him a visa. “To be a secular Mufti,” the sheikh adds, “is dangerous.”
And it is true that the Mufti is a most secular man – he was even once an Assembly MP for Aleppo. “I am ready to go anywhere in the world to say that war is not a sacred deed,” he says. “And those who have fought under the name of Jesus, Mohamed or Moses are lying. Prophets come to give life, not death.
“There is a history of building churches and mosques, but let us build human beings. Let us cease the language of killing. Had we paid all the funds of war to make peace, paradise would exist now. This is the message of my Syria.”
A dangerous man indeed. Original article here
News brief from the CNS (Catholic News Service) 19/09/2013
Christians in Syria are continuing to be targeted by outside fundamentalist groups who have joined the country's long civil war, said the head of the Syriac Catholic Church in Jerusalem. Bishop Boutros Melki, Syriac Catholic patriarchal vicar, told Catholic News Service Sept. 18 that Christians fear that the situation in Syria will become like that in Iraq, where half the Christian population has fled since the American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In an interview after returning from Montreal, where he met with Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the bishop said the historic city of Maaloula, with its ancient churches and monasteries, became the site of fighting between rebel and government forces. Attacks against churches and Christian homes occurred and Christian icons and crosses were destroyed and defamed, he said. "We can't accuse anybody, but when we know about such actions we ask ourselves what does all this mean and why?" he said. "We always remember what happened in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iraq is still in a bloody nightmare."
Artical courtesy of Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. The original in Arabic is from the Lebanese daily newspaper al-Akhbar. The message from Metropolitan Antonio Chedraoui that so offended the Saudis can be read here.
Lebanon to... Mexico, Saudi Arabia is waging a hidden campaign to stifle any Christian voice expressing anxiety about the existential threat to Christians in Syria and the Middle East at the hands of
Takfiris. As far as Riyadh is concerned, no voice should rise above the din of battle, even if this requires departing from the usual minimal standards of diplomatic work.
The Saudi ambassador in Beirut, Ali Iwad al-Asiri mustered all his influence to frustrate a consultative meeting for Arab ambassadors in Lebanon called by Cardinal Beshara Rai on August 27, which he hosted in Dimane. The goal of the meeting was to encourage some Arab countries to stop supporting the Takfiris who, under the banner of the "Arab Spring", are destroying the Christian presence in Syria, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. Al-Asiri boycotted the gathering and pressured ambassadors from countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to boycot it. The manner in which the Kuweiti ambassador, Abdul'al al-Qana'ei, was absent from the gathering gives the impression that it was due to Saudi pressure. Up until the night before the meeting, al-Qana'ei affirmed his intent to be present but shortly before it began he gave his regrets under the pretext of security concerns.
Takfiri are those who hold a radical fundamentalists view of Islam and condone acts of violence as a legitimate method of achieving religious and or political goals. Takfiris believe that all those including fellow Muslims who do not follow their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam are to be considered as kafir (infidel).
See also: Fie on You, Takfiris! by Fr Georges Massouh
The message sent by al-Asiri's behavior is that Riyadh is opposed to Middle Eastern Christians raising their voice against the fundamentalists because no sound should rise above the din of battle in Syria. In order to achieve this, Riyadh will not shy away from pressing all its weight to silence any voice that might ask about the future of the Christians of the Middle East in the shadow of the expansion of Takfirism in the region.