The pain and suffering of Christians in Syria was at the heart of a meeting that Pope Francis had on Friday with Patriarch Youhanna X Yazigi, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East.
On Sunday the
Patriarch will attend Mass in St Peter’s Square, celebrated by the Pope
to mark the Day of Catechists. He’s also due to meet with Italy’s
foreign minister and attend the St Egidio international, interfaith
conference which opens at the weekend.
In his encounter with the
Holy Father, the Patriarch spoke about the difficulties facing the
Christian community in Syria and the surrounding region. He also talked
about the plight of his own brother who was kidnapped last April,
together with the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Aleppo. The two leaders also
shared their hopes for progress on the journey towards full Christian
After their encounter, the Patriarch came to Vatican Radio
and talked to Philippa Hitchen about his hopes for an end to the
conflict in his country…
of all I’d like to express my deep, heartfelt love to my dear brother
in Christ….I bear in my heart all the pain of our people in Syria, in
Lebanon, in the Middle East, and we consider the attitude of His
Holiness towards our people, our Church in the Middle East, in Syria and
Lebanon especially to push, to find solutions, to establish a peace
through dialogue, not in war ..
[Pope’s day of prayer and fasting
for peace] It was very important I think, and in fact all our people
participated that day, all together, in praying for Syria, for the
Middle East, for peace in all the world, and it was a very important
message to all the world, and I think to all the governments – not the
simple people, but to the states and to the governments, to find a
solution through peace.
[Kidnapped brother] Unfortunately we hope
and we pray, and we try on all levels – with the governments, with
different people – to find a solution to this story, and we hope, but
till now we don’t have unfortunately any official or sure information
about our two brothers....we hope they’re still alive...
responsible?] They haven’t given us any sure answer till now – a lot of
stories, a lot of promises, but not any results unfortunately.
you talk about this with the Pope?] Yes, absolutely. We discussed a lot
of topics and subjects. First of all I expressed all my brotherly love
to His Holiness personally, and all my love of our Churches, the
Antiochian Orthodox Church – as you know always in history we’ve had a
good relationship and cooperation with the Catholic Church, with Vatican
City. ....And we talked about our progression towards unity, Christian
unity as you know, dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the
Catholic Church. We try, we want to do what we can do, all together –
this is the desire of His Holiness, and our desire. And about this
political situation, about the presence of Christians in the Middle East
– it’s a very important issue now, because a lot of our people are
leaving Syria or Lebanon for other countries, and we cannot accept the
Middle East without the face of Christ.
[Will there be a solution
to the conflict now there’s been an agreement on chemical weapons?] We
hope, and we ask all the governments to help us and to push all the
countries to help Syria to find a solution through dialogue, and
especially Russia and the States, and Europe maybe – they have a very
big and important role, and we hope to help in this way
Islamic presence after conflict?] About Islam, you know, we have very
good relationships with the Muslim people, in general in all his area.
We live together, we have the same history, the same future – we’re like
one family, this is the truth. But now we see in our countries a new
spirit of extremism from some groups, Islamic groups, and we all refuse
that – and the Muslim people, they refuse this extremist Islamic spirit.
religious leaders help?] Absolutely. And we all – the Imams in Syria
and Lebanon for example, and the bishops, the priests – we are all
together. And we try with our people – with the Christians, with the
Muslims – to do what we can do to have a calm life, and peace.
Egidio, The Courage of Hope] We try to be with our people, and to give
them some hope, to stay in their houses, in this land, in this Christian
land. And I would like to thank St Egidio for their invitation, and it
will be an occasion for me to say some words, maybe a message of our
pain, in the Middle East, in Syria and Lebanon, especially to make this
voice heard by all the world.
[Do you fear for yourself?] No.
There is a danger, but for example I live now in the Patriarchate in
Damascus, sometimes in Lebanon in our residence in Balamand, near
Beirut, and our church is open, we have our liturgies, our services as
usual. Except some areas absolutely where we have difficulties, in
Aleppo, in Homs, in others.