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."

By John Pontifex

NEW 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.

Criticizing 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.”
Patriarch Gregorios III
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 groups. 

With 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.” 

He 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.

He 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.

The 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 Christians.

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 people.”

Patriarch Gregorios III; ACN photo

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