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2013-09-19

ASIA/SYRIA - A monk of the Holy Land: "No to confessionalism: the Syrians are forced to remain silent"

Vatican City ( Agenzia Fides) - "We need to separate religion and politics. Nothing is worse, in this situation, than a confessional approach. Syria is a country full of ethnic and religious diversity.
Among Christians and non-Christians there are very different political views, even though today the majority of Syrians are forced into silence by violence". This is what Fr. Bahjat Karakach OFM, Syrian friar of Aleppo, postulants director of the "Holy Land Custody" explains, engaged in the formation of young people who intend to profess the rule of Saint Francis.
Fides Agency interviewed him.

Fr. Karakach, do you have direct news from Aleppo?

According to the information that our friars send us, Aleppo is blocked in a spiral of violence. Humanitarian conditions have been at high risk for a long time, in some areas there is frequently lack of electricity and water, food prices are very high in a context of increasing poverty. Aleppo is the city that today is suffering most. The second Syrian city has a single road, rigidly controlled by the opposition that open and close it as and when they want .

How is the Franciscan charism of peace and proximity to every man in this dramatic context lived?

The simple and friendly approach towards every man is part of our Franciscan DNA. While other voices have been raised to arm oneself or flee, our friars are present next to those who are suffering, armed only with their faith and charity. We Franciscans are committed in Syria, especially in giving comfort and closeness to all, Christians and non-Christians. In Aleppo our churches are at the disposal of some Christian communities of other faiths, unable to reach their churches to pray. And our convents welcome displaced people of different religions. Through our Order, material aid reach the people most in need, without discrimination.

According to some observers "the Syrian Christians are close to Assad". How do you respond to this simplification?

I think we need to separate religion and politics. Nothing is worse, in this situation, than a confessional approach. Syria is a country full of ethnic and religious diversity. And while religious fundamentalism forments, 'minorities' pay the consequences. Not only Christians but all minorities live in fear of being persecuted and suppressed. Today, on the ground of the opposition, fundamentalist tendency greatly prevails. There are also individuals and opponent groups that do not share the ideology of Al Qaeda, it is true, but unfortunately this does not count much at a political level. The fact remains that among Christians and non-Christians there are very different political views, although at present the majority of Syrians - of all religious and ethnic affiliations – are forced into silence because they do not agree with the violence that is devastating the country.

After the Pope’s vigil for peace and the Holy See's diplomatic efforts, how would you judge the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict?

We all touched the miracle of the prayer vigil celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter’s square: immediately after, the danger of a military attack on Syria was reduced. Through fasting and prayer we Christians can sustain hope and spread it where people are desperate. We must work to build the new Syria. I encourage everyone to keep the spirit of truth and hope, not to compromise with the culture of violence. We all know that the solution is demanding, not only for us Syrians, but also for many other nations, directly or indirectly involved in the conflict. All men of good will have the moral duty to urge their governments to a solution of peace and dialogue in Syria: this will be good for all of humanity. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 19/09/2013)

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