The most powerful Catholic leader in Syria met Pope Francis today to ask the Vatican to get more involved in bringing peace to his tortured homeland.
“I think it’s time the Vatican plays a bigger role, when we hear about weapons here and there,” said Patriarch Gregory III Laham.
“We want to hear the voice of the Holy Father saying, ‘This is a sin, it is against humanity,’” he told reporters April 17 at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
The Patriarch of Antioch, who is the spiritual leader of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, said the voice of the Holy See “is now extremely important for us, both Christians and Muslims.”
His Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Patriarch Gregory said Orthodox Christians, Muslims and government leaders also want to meet with Pope Francis.
At the level of diplomacy, he hopes that whoever the next Vatican Secretary of State is will take “new actions.”
“I hope they have the gesture of sending a cardinal to Damascus to pray with us,” remarked Patriarch Gregory.
“We don’t want a protocol gesture, we want to shock the world by praying for peace,” he stated.
“The Vatican’s voice,” he underscored, “is especially important for the future of Syria.”
In addition to praying for peace, the patriarch called on Christians to stay in the Middle East, fearing that if they left, “Jesus would only be a myth” and people would no longer believe in him.
“The reason to remain in the Middle East is to live alongside Islam, because that is our role as Christians,” he told CNA at the press conference.
He recalled how on April 6 he prayed for three people who were killed in the fighting, two Christians and one Muslim, explaining that it was part of every day life.
Patriarch Gregory presided over a funeral in Saidnaya, Syria for a 26-year-old Catholic who was killed by the opposition.
Later in the day he presented his condolences to a 65-year-old Greek Orthodox and a 75-year-old Muslim, both killed in their own homes and, according to him, for no reason.
“There is a war without a face and warriors without faces,” he said, commenting on the absence of any apparent motive for the murders.
“There is a battle of armed people, bandits, opposition, groups from outside and inside, from east and west, and you don’t know with whom you have to do what,” he added.
According to the patriarch, “this is not a civil war, it is war” and he believes it is “a complot.”
“I don’t understand how Europe can allow this situation and send people to fight,” said the patriarch.
“You’re using the name of democracy and you’re sending warriors!” he remarked.
The patriarch wrote a letter to Pope Francis on March 29 appealing for greater support from the Vatican, and asking him to “come and be our cross.”
He also recalled how the Pope referred to his country as “beloved Syria,” saying it “touched all hearts of everyone including Christians, Muslims and the opposition and those are the kinds of words we like to hear.”
In his opinion, the “whole world is now thinking about weapons and not about dialogue.”
But Patriarch Gregory insisted “Syrians, despite two years of fighting, are still able to discuss with each other.”
“Syria is a battlefield,” he said. “You are in full security in every place and in danger in any place.”
According to the patriarch, 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches have been destroyed.
“The biggest problem is that whole world is now occupied with deciding to take up arms, deliver more or less weapons to whom, where and how,” he said.
“The world has to think about peace and not about weapons,” Patriarch Gregory maintained.