Tag Archives: Syria

Syrian Patriarch advocates for Middle Eastern Christians

 Ignatius Joseph III YounanA month ago Patriarch of Antioch for Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Jospeh III Younan, 68, delivered an addressed entitled, “An advocacy for the survival of Christians in the Middle East,” in Bratislava.

Younan was the first eparch of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance centered in New Jersey. He was elected patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church in 2009. At the time of his election the Syrian Catholic Church numbered c. 132,000.

Patriarch Ignatius offers a perspective not readily heard in the secular media outlets. And while  some will say he is advocating for the Christians in Syria, he’s actually advocating for peaceful coexistence for all who live in the Middle East. The sufferings that our brothers and sisters in Syria are facing each day are but a drop in the bucket that others around the world also encounter. While we don’t know the violence and oppression in the Western world as do the Middle Easterners, we are aware of the meaning and contours of human indignities.

When Pope Francis called for a day of fasting and prayer several weeks ago for peace in the world, he didn’t do so without knowing the concrete faces many men and women and children. We all have to make peace in Syria and all the Middle East a priority and not merely a public relations opportunity…and realize that “the war is the defeat of humanity.”

Saint Ephrem and all Syrian saints and blesseds, pray for us.

Younan said,

Since I was elected to Patriarch of Antioch January 2009, I already visited 10 times Iraq, the war torn country, and where we already lost close more than the half of our faithful who emigrated abroad or still waiting to emigrate as refugees in neighboring countries. I visited 3 times Turkey where only a tiny  minority of Christians still live, mostly in the huge Istanbul area. I already made visits once to the Holy Land,  twice  to Jordan and Egypt. I also traveled 3 times to Kerala, India, to strengthen ties with our sister Churches of Syriac heritage, the Syro-Malankara and the Syro-Malabar Churches.

Therefore, by experience, I can tell you that, like all Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs, I am acquainted with the plight of most Christian communities in the Middle East. Because of the unending spiral of violence, that is undermining the very existence of non Muslim minorities, particularly Christians in lands that was the cradle of early Christian Communities, we have the very reason to fear falling in limbo following the upheaval of the regime.

But the greatest concern we have at the present time is the terrible situation happening in Syria, my birth country where my parents, fleeing Turkey, sought refuge right after the First World War. The last time I could visit Aleppo,  the  second largest city of  Syria was in the summer of last year. Since then I only had to communicate with the bishops, clergy and faithful of our 4 Syriac Catholic Dioceses, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Hassakeh by phone calls when available.

Because of the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria, that lasted already more than  two and half year, this country so deeply rooted in the ancient civilization, is horribly ravaged by a sectarian religious civil war, that quickly as we warned, turned into a regional even international conflict. We have reason to believe this conflict was triggered by the Sunni Muslim majority supported by some Western countries for a geo-political agenda. Some politicians in the West, pretending to defend democracy, with the complicity of agglomerate media, gave up their own principles and values. It seems that behind this confusing attitude, was the fear of violence coming from radical Sunni Muslims, and the secularist opportunism that worships modern times “Mammon”!

One must recognize that after Turkey a century ago, Palestine and Lebanon some decades ago, and Iraq for the past 20 years, it is Syria now that knows the frightening exodus of its Christian population living there for millennia. This country has been rocked since March 2011 by a conflict triggered by opponents and rebels, who initially pretended a peaceful change of a regime blasted as a dictatorial.  Although Syria was commonly known as the second country in the Middle East, after Lebanon, that respected all religious denominations and exercised tolerance towards all minorities including Christians.

Now it is a common understanding that Syria well rooted in ancient civilization like Mesopotamia and the Nile Valley, is ravaged by a sectarian war, between two religious denominations: the Sunnis who make the majority of the population and the Alawites (a Muslim sect not recognized by the Sunnis as true Muslims) who used to be marginalized even mistreated for centuries, because of hateful discrimination, until they ascended to power in the 1970s.

As a result of the violent turmoil in Syria, over one hundred thousand were killed, millions were displaced inside the country or became refugees in neighboring countries, living in a horribly inhumane conditions.

Fighting, bombing attacks, kidnapping and killing horrified and alienated mostly innocent population looking for peace and security. The chaos that led to the civil war, brought a horrendous destructions of a country known to be one of the safest in the region. Massive emigration resulted  that needs immediate intervention for humanitarian assistance, as the winter is approaching, while spring seasons seem fading!

We still remember the insidious Machiavellian assertions of Western politicians telling publicly since the beginning of Syrian tragedy, that it will be soon an end by the fall of the regime.  On the contrary, as we feared, the crisis turned into chaos, and the chaos ultimately led to the most horrible sectarian civil war in recent generations.

As you are well aware, this sectarian war spread to many areas, and Christians have been targeted by radical groups. Several churches and monasteries have been heavily damaged and even burned.. Exactly what we, Christian leaders, warned most often of, since the beginning. (Maaloula and Raqqa are the latest examples.)

We, Christians of the Middle East, we really do not understand why politicians of the Western World,  believing in principles of democracy, ignore that what is happening now in Syria, is far from seeking a true democracy, freedom and equality for all citizens. At one hand, those  politicians  profess a separation of Church and State in their own countries, while they tolerate emerging regimes based on political Islam with a clear agenda of applying the Sharia and professing an amalgam between the religion and every aspect of life, individual or public!

Christian Leaders in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, made many statements that clearly say that they do not side with any governing person or family, neither with any regime or political party. They did urge all parties in conflict to act for reconciliation and to seek reforms by a patient dialog not with violent means.

Looking at what did happen to the Christians in neighboring Iraq, we have believed that any political change of the regime in Syria should have been solely peaceful. First of all we feared that this sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites with their multiform denominations, will undoubtedly spread to Lebanon that hangs to a very delicate balance and other Middle Eastern countries. It is primarily the duty of the Sunni majority to inspire confidence and respect the civil rights of all minorities.

This is the message of the Holy Father Pope Francis, who kept praying for peace and calling for a reconciliation among all components of the Syrian people. We owe the Successor of Peter a lot of gratitude for his courage following the steps of the Divine Master and proclaiming that “the war is the defeat of humanity.”

Christians of the Middle East are facing in recent times the greatest challenge of their history that put their very survival at risk. Given the spreading of violent radicalism in political Islam, the young generations instead of remaining rooted in the land of their ancestors, to be witnesses to the Lord, they are seeking freedom and dignity in the lands of emigration. Let us remember any evangelization is still a proselytism forbidden in countries where Islam has the majority. Because Islam does not recognize the religious freedom, it condemns those willing to embrace the Christian faith even to death! Unless, the community of nations clearly and without any politically correct language or condition, defends the Charter of Human Rights, as it was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Middle East will continue to sink in a fatal hemorrhage  emptying itself of Christian communities that lived for millennia in that region.

We have confidence that you, dear brother shepherds, will do whatever you can to bring Catholics to awareness to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. We need you to waken up the silent majority of citizens, who are lovers of truth in charity, seekers justice to all and who want to be peace makers in our turbulent world.

“…Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, from which also I am not worthy to receive my appellation, being the last of them.” (From the Letter of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians)

Benefit for Syrian Refugee Relief in NYC

AVSI Benefit for Syrian Refugees


Click on image to enlarge.


Pope Francis’ homily at the Prayer Vigil for Peace 2013

detail of ChristHomily of His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vigil of Prayer and Fasting in Saint Peter’s Square, Saturday 7 September 2013.

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”. This allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message. We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?

It says to us simply that this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”. All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.

This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness. When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid (cf. Gen 3: 10), he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear ….

It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters. This is not a question of coincidence, but the truth: we bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war. All of us! And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother. Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!

At this point I ask myself: Is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.

This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter!

May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). “Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love” (World Day of Peace Message, 1975). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! Amen.

Prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World

Peace in Syria

Saturday is a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World.

Join us in prayer at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 355 Foxon Road, Rt 80, East Haven, CT

Saturday, 7 September @ 7pm

Christ’s voice heard through Cistercian nuns in Syria

The Cistercian nuns of the Monastery of Blessed Mary of Font of Peace (in Arabic, Dier al Adrha Yanbu’a-s-Salam) Azeir, Syria are speaking out:

The people are straining their eyes and ears in front of the television: all they’re waiting for is a word from Obama!

A word from Obama? Will the Nobel Peace Prize winner drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?

The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up…. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. It isn’t he who is “the great one,” it is the Evil One who these days is really acting up.

(excerpt from 29 August 2013 letter, the full text is here)

This is a matter of faith and the public order. These voices need to be heard and prudent action needs to be taken up. Killing more people to save face is not the Christian way.

Typically, you don’t hear from Cistercians in this way. They are now speaking up for justice and peace at a time when another World War is possible. Following the 6th century Rule of Benedict and the Constitutions of the venerable order of Citeaux. You may say, the small group of nuns of Blessed Mary of Font of Peace have as their key work to pray for peace and to work on their conversion.

The monastery is located in Syria, on the boarder with Lebanon in a village of Maronite Catholic. Historians will note that the intuition of the Cistercian nuns coheres well with the context in which they find themselves: at the crossroads with East and West, where Christianity began, and where culture flourished.  From where the nuns are located, you can see the Good News sent abroad to Asia Minor, Greece, France, Rome, Armenia, India, China. The nuns, too, rely on the intercession of saints like Afraate, Ephraim, Cyrus, Simeon the Protostilite, Maron, John Maron, Isaac of Niniveh, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Rafka, and countless others who followed Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Peace, and all Syrian and Cistercian saints, pray for us.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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