Melkite Patriarch faults West's Middle East policies, but says Syrian Church will survive
"We will fight and do everything we can to keep Christians as much as possible in the birthplace of Christianity. Christians in the Middle East have an important role--mission, presence and dialogue."
YORK—The worldwide head of the Melkite Church has charged that
support from the West earmarked for moderate opposition groups in Syria is
ending up in the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists.
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need,
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III, head of the largest Catholic
community in Syria, said money and weapons given to moderate groups are being
repeatedly seized by ISIS and used in the effort to oust President Bashar
al-Assad, who recently admitted to his regime’s vulnerability.
the West’s policies in the Middle East, Patriarch Gregorios said: “If [the
West] helps moderates in Syria in a direct way, [it is] helping ISIS in an
indirect way. If you give money to the weak, moderate groups one day, it will
get into the hands of the powerful, militant groups the next. We see this
happening every day.”
The Patriarch’s comments came on the heels of reports of the US-led coalition executing
airstrikes and providing military aid to help Syrian Kurdish forces fighting against
ISSI in Kobani, on the Turkish border; and lending support to the Free Syrian
Army—despite concerns that the aid was being passed—and even sold—to extremist
the Pope on Sunday renewing calls July 26, 2015 for the release of Father Paolo
Dall’Oglio almost exactly two years after his abduction, Patriarch Gregorios
said he had no information about his whereabouts, or that of six or more other
priests and bishops kidnapped in Syria. He said: “Who knows what has happened
to them. Who knows if they are still alive.”
went on to say that the people’s “increased hardship” in recent weeks and
months was prompting an upsurge in Christians and others fleeing their homes. “Every
day people are leaving the country, some with visas, some without. Sometimes,
people take with them thousands of dollars in the hope of getting to Europe—leaving
themselves open to exploitation or worse,” the prelate said.
reported that at least 450,000 of Syria’s Christians were either internally
displaced or living as refugees abroad. Some 40,000 Christians are now in
Germany and 50,000 in Sweden, he added.
But he added that despite the sharp decline in the number of Christian presence
in parts of the country, the faithful were returning to other regions which
were now comparatively safe again. He singled out Maaloula, the Christian town
and shrine near Damascus, which fell to Islamist forces in 2013 but which has
been reclaimed by government forces.
Patriarch said 450 Christian families—or some 2,250 people—had now returned to
Maaloula, with many others returning to Homs, Marmarita and the Valley of the
Patriarch said he was “confident” the Church in Syria would survive,
proclaiming: “We will fight and do everything we can to keep Christians as much
as possible in the birthplace of Christianity. Christians in the Middle East
have an important role—mission, presence and dialogue. We are not just
concerned for Christians; we try to promote dialogue and we care for all the
Patriarch Gregorios III; ACN photo