by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
DAMASCUS/BEIRUT (BosNewsLife)– Syrian Christian leaders and aid workers warned the West on Wednesday, August 28, that a planned military action against their country’s government “would be disastrous” with “unintended consequences” for the already endangered Christian community.
In a statement obtained by BosNewsLife, the head of Syria’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church called reconciliation initiatives “still viable” which should be “the top priority” for all countries concerned about the ongoing civil war that has killed over 100,000 people.
“It is time to finish with these weapons. Instead of calling for violence, international powers need to work for peace,” said Gregorios III, the Church Patriarch of Antioch.
The United States, Britain and France are among those supporting military action in response to last week’s reported chemical attack on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus in which hundreds were killed. On Wednesday, August 28, Britain proposed a resolution to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council “authorizing all necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria.
Yet, “Who can know who was behind the chemical weapons attack?”, wondered Patriarch Gregorios III in remarks distributed by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Christian rights activists and aid workers share his concern about the imminent military strike against Syria. “Christian areas are being targeted by Islamist militants within the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad,” noted Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid and advocacy group.
President Assad has accused the insurgents who are trying to topple him of using such chemical weapons, charges denied by the rebels. As the U.S. and Britain “move towards military intervention in the war-torn country, they do not seem to have considered the unintended consequences such action may have on the already endangered Christian community,” Barnabas Fund added.
In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron the group urged them to take “their responsibility to protect vulnerable minorities”, including Christians.
While condemning chemical weapons attacks, Patriarch Gregorios III said a military strike against Syria would be “disastrous” as more violence could negatively impact Christians. They are already in the crossfire between opposition groups, including foreign fighters backed by a flow of arms, and government troops, he suggested.
“Many people are coming from outside Syria to fight in the country. These fighters are fueling fundamentalism and Islamism.”
In one of the latest incidents he blamed on extremists , two bombs fell in the Old City of Damascus on Monday, August 26, both of them very close to the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarchate, where he was based.
One explosive fell on a Scout center not far from the entrance to his patriarchate, killing two adult male bystanders. No children were hurt, Christians said
Patriarch Gregorios III said, “We do not know if the attackers are targeting the Churches. It could be that we are attacked because
we are close to an army base.”
However, “The extremists [want] to fuel hatred between the Christians and Muslim [groups].”
The church leader added that the U.S., Russia and other world powers should put together a peace plan to avoid more bloodshed and pressure on the Christian minority.
Some 450,000 Syrian Christians, nearly a third of the total, are either displaced within the country or refugees abroad, the patriarch stressed.
Another church leader, who was not identified amid apparent security concerns, urged fellow believers in a statement distributed by Barnabas Fund “to help in the protection of the Syrian Christians who are the scapegoats and…are caught up in the sectarian fighting and civil war and…being uprooted and forced out from their land and homes.”
The official said, “Their churches are destroyed, burned and looted in many areas. Christians feel they are not accepted and wanted and are being killed and slaughtered in areas where [Islamic] extremists consider them atheists.”
The church leader noticed that, “Christians live in despair and fear and cry loud for help and protection”
Yet amid the misery, there are signs of hope, explained Patriarch Gregorios III.
The church leader spoke about the work of a relief center at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate, set up at the end of 2011, and now providing food, medicine and other help to 2,800 displaced families.
And, he said, “We are happy that our people are responding to this situation with prayer. Throughout this whole time of crisis, our churches have been almost full.”
Stressing how many Christian lives had been saved, the Patriarch said: “The people feel that in spite of the problems, God is granting miracles for them.”
Yet, “There is a mixture of hope and despair,” Patriarch Gregorios III acknowledged. “People do not know what their future may be. They are very concerned about their children and about vulnerable people, including the disabled.”
Barnabas Fund said it has allocated Sunday, September 1, as a time for churches and individuals to pray for Christians in Syria as well as Egypt where over 60 churches were torched in recent weeks.
“We have been working through Christian partners on the ground for the last 18 months to get food and other essentials, including clothing, medicine, heaters and blankets, to those in greatest need. We are also supporting Syrian Christians who have fled to Armenia and Lebanon,” the group told BosNewsLife.
Barnabas Fund said it is using a black X for this campaign as a symbol of solidarity with Christians who are being targeted because of their faith. “Islamists have daubed this sign on the walls of Christian homes and businesses in Egypt to identify them for attack, while Muslim properties have been painted with a red X for protection.”
(Credit: BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).