Last Updated: Fri Sep 07, 2012 10:33 am (KSA) 07:33 am (GMT)

Eastern Catholic Church head calls for Pope’s mediation in Syria

Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and All the East holds a Bible for a child to kiss during the Palm Sunday mass at al-Zitoun church in Damascus April 1, 2012. (Reuters)
Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and All the East holds a Bible for a child to kiss during the Palm Sunday mass at al-Zitoun church in Damascus April 1, 2012. (Reuters)

The Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church calls for Pope Benedict to be a mediator in trying to resolve the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Gregorios III Laham, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite-Greek Catholic Church on Thursday (September 6) called on Pope Benedict to mediate try Europe to help bring about an end to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Laham said he would ask the Pope, who is scheduled to visit Lebanon on September 14, to adopt a mediator role.

“I will tell the Pope that we are not politicians. I will tell him the importance of the Pope’s mediation in order to unite the world to solve the Syrian crisis that has cost so much blood, pains, hatred and tragedy,” he said.

Laham further appealed to his fellow Christians in Syria to remain in the country.

“I wish and I urge my Christian brothers to stay. Not as Christians only but also as Syrian citizens with their brothers. Syrian society needs Christians and that is what we want to ensure and convince our children. No matter how hard the situation is, we should be patient,” he said.

Some countries in Europe, including Germany, have looked into the possibility of allowing Syrian Christians to emigrate.

Violence in Syria continued on Thursday as Syrian army mortar and artillery bombardment of an area of southern Damascus where Palestinian refugees live killed at least 20 people, residents and local emergency workers said.

Yarmouk camp and the districts surrounding it have seen the most prolonged fighting in the capital since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a counter-offensive to push rebels out of the city two months ago.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since initially peaceful protests against Assad erupted in March 2011.

Tens of thousands more have fled across its borders to neighboring states to escape the violence.

From his office, located in the al-Zaitoun church built in 1834, Lahham said Syrian Christians should remain in Syria because it was their country.

“Europe does not understand the meaning of the Christians in the region. We should not maintain Christians as if they were rare animals that should be in a safe place. The Christian should be in their country with and for the others,” he said.

“I am in a country of a Muslim majority. I am with my Muslim brothers, for the Muslim society in order to develop it in history, literature, cinema, art and everything else. Our Arab world needs Christians today even in the development of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he added.

“Every real Arab-Muslim needs the Christian society that is a part of the Oriental-Arab combination,” Laham said.

Regional tensions appeared to be exacerbated on Thursday as Syria condemned calls by Egypt's president for change in the country, saying they amounted to blatant interference in its internal affairs.

The 79-year old Patriarch called for reconciliation and expressed his readiness to take part in any such attempt between all sides.

“As a Syrian church, we want to serve the reconciliation that St. Paul talked about. During these hard conditions in Syria we would have a role as a church in the reconciliation that joins all Syrians no matter what are their requests or positions,” he said.

“Even the opposition or what we called 'gunmen' to every human I say: Come to a common word between us,” he added.

The 18-month crisis in the country has put pressure on the Christian community although they have chosen to be neutral in the ongoing conflict.

While he was in the centre of the old city old Damascus, Laham called everybody not to fear even if some things may be frightening.

“Jesus says: Do not fear. This means that despite the reasons of fear we should be strong,” he said.

Christians represent ten percent of the total Syrian population.

Damascus and Aleppo have a large Christian population and one archbishop from the Melkite-Greek Catholic church, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, fled to Lebanon last week, with a number of priests, after his offices were ransacked in Aleppo, according to the Catholic news agency Fides.

Fides said unidentified groups wanted to “feed a religious war” in Syria.

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