.- The Italian Jesuit who was exiled from Syria after criticizing President Bashar al-Assad says he is still hopeful for the country’s future despite its descent into war.
“I see hope in the fact that the Syrian people are very attached to their country, very attached to the fact that they are a mosaic country. People want to keep that. They are committed to pluralism,” said Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio in an interview with CNA.
Fr. Dall'Oglio spent over 30 years in Syria as part of the Deir Mar Musa Monastic Community. Throughout that time he was a champion for interfaith dialogue in the majority-Muslim country, where Christians make up around 10 percent of the population.
Since being exiled, he has watched in horror as fighting has spread throughout Syria.
“We have so much blood on our streets, so many people lost, so many people standing for freedom and democracy have been lost. So many good, youthful people … It’s such a tragedy.”
The armed revolt against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
On Sept. 4, the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the United Nations General Assembly that the death toll from the internal conflict is “staggering” and the destruction “catastrophic.”
“Syria is suffering enormously, but nevertheless people are hopeful,” said Fr. Dall’Oglio. “They want to have a democratic Syria where the will to be together does not come from above or outside, but it is really a spring from the inside, from the souls of the people.”
To that end, Fr. Dall’Oglio is currently in Rome to participate in a Week of Solidarity for Syria. The event is organized by the Italian section of the Religions for Peace movement. They hope to encourage “fasting, prayer, reflection and awareness in support of the Syrian people who are suffering from the effects of civil war and repression.”
“We cannot be living with others without a religious and theological consideration of the weight and the role of these people in the history of salvation,” Fr. Dall’Oglio said.
The Week of Solidarity is also aimed at helping people prepare for the Sept. 14-16 visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon.
“More than ever before, if we are not inclusive, although faithful to our convictions, we will not be constructive and positive in the coming equilibrium of our societies,” Fr. Dall’Oglio stated.