The leader of Catholics in Syria has hit out at countries which send in arms, saying that the impact of military shipments is “far more dangerous” than the use of chemical weapons. While issuing an unequivocal condemnation of the “destructive” use of chemical weapons, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch said that armed military support – including intelligence – coming from outside the country remained the most serious threat.
In a statement issued to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios, who last week spoke out against armed intervention by the West, said that his country’s death toll, displacement crisis and infrastructure devastation was the direct fault of military hardware sent from outside Syria.
Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria as well as Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Gregorios stated that problems had escalated since the steady flow of arms into the country following the March 2011 start of the uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.
Renewing his opposition to military intervention by the West, he wrote: “…For the last two and a half years, Eastern and Western countries have not stopped sending weapons, money, military experts, secret service agents and Salafist fundamentalist armed gangs of thugs and criminals… They have fallen on Syria like a destructive new flood, far more dangerous even than destructive chemical weapons, whose use on our Syrian soil we reject on any pretext whatever.”
He said the weapons and their impact have caused the deaths of 100,000 Syrians, the displacement of millions of others, the destruction of thousands of villages and harm to the futures of millions of young people.
The Patriarch stressed the need for peace talks, stating: “Contrary to the calls to arms, attacks and military interventions, we enjoy listening to appeals from around the world aimed at creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, dialogue, humanitarian solidarity, hope, forgiveness and finally peace.”
Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end of arms to Syria echoes a similar call made in January by Beirut-based Cardinal Bechara Boulos Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.
Accusations of foreign military aid and intelligence entering Syria date back many months.
On Saturday, 31 August, Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faysal al-Mikdad accused Saudi Arabia of being “the main player” responsible for financing and arming terrorist groups operating in Syria.
It comes as other reports state that President Assad has been increasing its purchase of arms from Russia, with more sightings of ships travelling to Syria from a Ukrainian port used by Russia’s armed export monopoly.
Last week, Patriarch Gregorios spoke out against armed intervention by the West in Syria, stating that it would “fuel hatred, criminality and fundamentalism”.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, he said: “Surely [military engagement] will spread like a world war.”
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, he questioned reports of a chemical weapons attack on 21 August, saying: “Who can know who was behind the chemical weapons attack?”
In his statement, Patriarch Gregorios said that prayer campaigns were taking place across Syria – in churches, homes and youth movements.
He stated: “We join in the calls for prayer that have been launched around the world for peace in Syria, as that is the real movement for solidarity with Syria.”
Patriarch Gregorios praised Pope Francis’ appeal for peace which is set to climax on Saturday (7 September) with a day of fasting and prayer for Syria led by the Pontiff.
Aid to the Church in Need announced a week of prayer for peace in Syria, which started on Friday (30 August) and involving the charity’s 17 national offices around the world.
Father Martin Barta, spiritual assistant to Aid to the Church in Need, thanked the Holy Father for his prayer and fasting initiative.
He said: “Having received support for our prayer campaign from many quarters throughout the world, we regard it as a sign of God and an of divine providence that we may now, in union with the Holy Father and the universal church, conclude the week of prayer for Syria with a global day of prayer for peace.”