The leader of Syria's Catholic Church has urged the West and the United Nations to immediately end sanctions against his country and to stop supporting rebels, saying this is the only way to find a solution to a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Joseph III Younan made the comments in an interview with Vatican Radio
in Budapest, Hungary, where he also thanked Pope Francis for his
The patriarch is a man on a mission. After giving a lecture at
Budapest's Pázmány Péter Catholic University he was to meet Hungarian
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and expected to discuss how Hungary can
support persecuted Christians.
He also wants Hungary to pressure the European Union and U.N. to end the war in his home country.
"I still hope that the Western countries, that means the Western
politicians, would accept to stop financing and arming so-called because
there would be otherwise no end to the sectarian war, " he said.
"And I would hope, asking, for lifting the embargo, the sanctions on
Syria. Those sanctions surely harm the population, not those who are in
the government," he added.
He also expressed concern about the kidnapping of many Christians,
including Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, who have been
missing since their abduction in the northern city of Aleppo on April
"We hope to get news [from them], but till now, since the time of their kidnapping...we have no news."
"What we can do?", he wondered. "We have had many kidnapped people.
Till now we have at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of kidnapped
people," the patriarch explained. "I regret to say that we don't know
With the war ongoing, as many as 600,000 Christians have fled, and
thousands died. Those staying behind are facing multiple challenges:
they are in the crossfire in fighting between opponents and supporters
of President Bashar Assad or face attacks by the Islamic State group and
Yet the Syrian church leader says he hopes Christian refugees will
one day return to Syria, after Russian-backed Syrian forces "freed" the
eastern part of the devestated Aleppo. "By the unification of Aleppo
there is hope that Christians will be back like other residents who left
Aleppo," he stressed.
However, "Of course it will take time to get the needed reconciliation
between the government and those who call themselves the opponents,"
the patriarch acknowledged.
Amid the misery, he said, churches have been supplying water and
other humanitarian aid.
And he has a special message for Pope Francis.
"Of course Pope Francis is doing a lot [such as] praying and calling on
the international community to help stop the war either in Syria or in
Iraq and not allowing those terrorists to get the possibility to kill
others in the name of God [but] to stop them."
The patriarch is in Hungary as it is the first country in the world
to have opened a government office for persecuted Christians.
"We don't want to discriminate against Muslim refugees", said Tamás
Török, Hungary's deputy state secretary for combating persecution of
Hungary was among the first EU countries to erect razor wire fences ,
backed by police and soldiers, to stop migrants fleeing war and
"I realize that these measures could also have impacted Christians.
However real refugees will always be welcome in Hungary," Török told
Behind the scenes talks have been held however on Hungary adopting at
least some Christian refugees, though officials say the focus of the
'Office of the Deputy State Secretary for Persecuted Churches' will
focus on providing aid to persecuted Chistians in their home countries
and other areas.
In recent days a government delegation already visited Iraq investigate the plight of persecuted Christians, Török explained.
Officials say the office will also provide aid to churches in the
Middle East and other troubled areas, especially in the areas of
Christian studies and by providing books.