Who does really save Syrian Catholics from terrorists: paradoxes of the Syrian conflict
The Muslim majority in Syria have traditionally lived in neighborhood with Syrian Christians, Catholics in particular, for centuries. In the history of Christianity, Syria takes a special place. Suffice it to mention seven Roman hierarchs of the Syrian origin, who spiritually nourished the flock in the first centuries of Christianity. The share of Christians of all denominations among the population of Syria before the war reached 19%, including Catholics. The war radically invaded the Syrian Catholic community’s way of life. Many of them were injured, killed or became refugees. 2012 became a tragedy for Syrian Catholics: terrorists had destroyed many Catholic churches and monasteries in ancient Aleppo, kidnapped and killed Catholic priests and monks.
The war affected thousands of Syrian Catholics and forced Catholic hierarchs to seek political forces capable to stop violence against suffering Catholics in Syria.
After accession to the Papal Throne on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis in his Christmas message urged believers around the world pay attention to the events in Syria. The Pontiff stressed that military solution to this conflict is impossible. This appeal of the new Pope was made after the events of 2012, when terrorists had already destroyed Catholic churches and monasteries in ancient Aleppo and many of Catholic priests and monks had been kidnapped or executed.
It was followed by statements of the prelates of the Syrian Catholic churches, whose flock had already suffered the terror and persecution of anti-government rebels.
On May 20, 2013, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians for the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Yonan stated that Syrian Christians are disappointed in the West. The Patriarch said that the situation in Syria was the result of the western geopolitical strategy to divide Syria and other states of the Middle East. According to him, striving for democracy and pluralism became a cover of "lies and hypocrisy". He also mentioned the case of two Catholic bishops abducted in 2013 and the two-faced US behavior, who "had the opportunity to receive news about them when they wanted it," while Patriarch himself had no information about the situation of the two bishops.
"We have warned both regional and western governments, especially in the US, Britain and France of violence that leads to chaos, and then to civil war. Two years ago, the governments decided to ignore us", said the Patriarch to the Catholic News Service in Washington. He also added they would pay more attention to cooperation with Moscow, Peking and Delhi in the future.
On May 21, 2013, the head of the Chaldean-Catholic Church of Syria, Patriarch Luis Rafael Sako criticized "motives and reasons" that became the basis for the West to support the regime change in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Libya. He suggested that extremist groups who were trying to seize power in these countries were "even worse than authoritarian ones."
On September 5, 2013, the head of the Jesuit Order stressed that the US military intervention in Syria would be the "abuse of power". The head of the Society of Jesus, Nicholas noted that the intervention of the United States and France "would increase the suffering of the Syrian people, who have already suffered above all measure".
It would seem that the Western powers should have been the first to listen to the appeals of the Catholic hierarchs. The European countries and the United States are historically the most closest to the Catholic Church.
Even in the USA with Protestantism widespread, Catholics make up 20% of all Christians.
However, Western leaders remained deaf not only to the suffering of the ordinary Syrian Catholics, but even to the appeals of the Pope and the Catholic bishops. The persecution of Catholics by militants in war-torn Syria continued.
The Syriac Catholic Church Patriarch demanded, on July 21, 2014 to stop financing terrorists. "It is urgently needed to stop financing terrorists. Where do they take their weapons? This is the work of the Persian Gulf fundamentalist states that is tacitly approved by Western politicians because of the Persian Gulf countries oil supplies to the West. Unfortunately, this is the case", - he said during the meeting in Rome with Archbishop Mamberti, the Vatican Secretary for International Relations.
When the Islamic Caliphate terrorists captured the Mar Benham monastery in Mosul on July 21, 2014, the Syriac Catholic Church archbishop of the city Josef Petros Moshe made the following statement: "The international community demonstrates incredible inactivity, looking indifferent at what is happening in the region. The time of loud statements passed, it’s time for decisive action. It is necessary to make lists of terrorist groups and those countries that nourish Islamists. Secret services of a number of states are well informed about the sources of military supply of terrorists, and this is what serves the further destruction of holy sites and the killing of civilians".
By 2015, the number of Christians in Syria has dramatically decreased. There are many confirmations to this. "1.75 million Christians lived in Syria before the beginning of the conflict. Approximately 700 thousand Christians became refugees, which is almost half the country's Christian population", the Christian Post website quotes John Newton, the representative for the international charitable organization "Aid to the Church in Need".
The Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church in his statement to the media, on September 15, 2015, has pointed out that two-thirds of the parish of his church in Aleppo - more than 70 thousand people - became refugees. The Patriarch stated that the US, Britain and France support of the Syrian rebels was "inciting violence" "under the pretext of the Arab spring".
In autumn 2015, the situation with the ongoing war in Syria began to change significantly. At the request of the Syrian government, Russia was involved in struggle against the Islamic terror in Syria. Radical Islamic groups that oppressed the population of Muslims and Christians had been gradually weakened. This did not go unnoticed by the Syrian Catholics.
In autumn 2015, George Abu Hazen, the Apostolic Pro-Vicar of Aleppo, stressed that Russian military support is the most effective in the fight against ISIS. The Russians "do not pretend to strike", unlike the US "deliberately ineffective" bombing.
At the same time, the Melkite archbishop Jean-Cl?mente Jenbart confirmed that Russian airstrikes of the ISIS positions were a "source of hope for the Christians of the country," and recognized the Russian President’s decisions on Syria as "serving to the salvation of Christians".
It is worth noting that the above mentioned bishop George Abu Hazen has criticized the inappropriate military intervention of the West in the Syrian conflict more than once. For example, after the French airstrikes against the ISIS, on September 2015, he condemned the military measures of France as "another series of inadequate actions of the Western powers." French airstrikes were the result of "contradictory recommendations of no sense", he said later in an interview with the Fides news agency. French invasion has broken up the period of relative peace in Aleppo, where people had already experienced months of bloodshed and deprivation, he said. Abu Hazen accused the Western powers of invading Syria without taking into account the situation with the suffering population of the country.
Let’s recall the "continuous strikes against civilians" of the so-called "moderate opposition" groups, in the period of the fierce confrontation for Aleppo in the spring of 2016. There was no difference between these groups and "other jihadists in anything except the name", in the words of Abu Hazen. "Water and electricity were supplied to the liberated regions, schools were reopened" in those parts of the city where the Syrian Army had been promoted with the Russian air support, Vatican Radio quotes the bishop.
It is obvious that the situation in Aleppo besieged by radical groups was especially hard for the Syrian Catholics.
In October 2016, several leaders of the Syrian Catholic Church called on the governments of Western countries, in particular the US, to stop supporting the anti-government rebels in Syria. This appeal was quoted by Alessandra Nucci in her article published in the Catholic World Report.
"Please help us to keep our country from plunging into the abyss of the fundamentalist regime they are trying to pound us", said Jean-Cl?ment Jenbart, a Melkite Catholic archbishop of Aleppo.
On February 10, 2016, Pope Francis said that the "Arab springs" were a "risky venture" of the West, too expensive for Syria to pay for it. "The consequences of the Arab Spring and the war in Iraq were evident from the very beginning." On December, 12, of the same year, Francis expressed "deep sympathy" to Syria and its people. The Pontiff's message was given to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by the Vatican nuncio in Damascus Mario Zenari.
Francis noted the difficult situation in Syria and condemned "all forms of extremism and terrorism". The message was transmitted by the Franciscan leader of Aleppo, Friar George Abu Hazen who called this message "a historic sign" and "a sign of hope for all."
The Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo and the president of the Syrian branch of Caritas, Antoine Audo is sure that the Western world has got "an inadequate understanding of the struggle in Syria." Supporting the rebels the US and its allies are helping the "jihad warriors", in his view. An unprecedented chemical attack in Aleppo on April 4, 2017, was absolutely unexpected and Syrians are still wondering whether the incident was an attempt to influence on public opinion before the subsequent US intervention, he explained to the Vatican Radio.
Syrian war demonstrates the disappointing paradoxes of the time to the full. Christian in the past and bounded with the Catholic Church, at least by cultural if not spiritual ties, the United States and Europe in fact does nothing to help the Syrian Catholics suffering from terrorists.
Political and military elite of the US and Europe does not support anyone other than extremists and other rebels in Syria.
However, Syrian Catholics can hardly expect any support from presidents like Obama or even Trump. 2/3 of Americans not without reason believed that Obama, despite his statements, is not a Christian at all. As for Trump, after the famous meeting with the Pope, in May 2017, the ‘Catholic Herald’ in an article "How Christians are the Trumps?" noted that Donald and Melania Trump are "now occupying some sort of grey area between churches".
As a result, Syrian Catholics have rather to hope on Muslim Syrian government forces, President Bashar al-Assad and assistance of Russia, which hardly have deep religious and cultural ties with the Catholic Church.