Syrian Catholic leaders call for united efforts by world community
“In Damascus, the last three days have been very difficult” as the fighting moved to the city, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the nuncio, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from the capital July 17.
“The situation compared to a month ago clearly is more tense,” he said.
“The situation of the Christian community is the same as the situation for all Syrians. The Christians are not targeted, but they are under the same bombing and shelling the others face,” the archbishop said.
An uprising against President Bashar Assad’s government began in March 2011. Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting since then, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The U.N. refugee agency said July 17 that the number of Syrians seeking refuge outside the country has risen sharply in the past three months, with some 112,000 Syrian refugees now registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Archbishop Zenari said, “The international community must speak with one voice; otherwise the parties involved in the conflict won’t listen.” The nuncio said he was not lobbying for any specific international intervention, but “too much time has already passed. There are many ways to reach a consensus.”
Some Christian leaders in Syria have questioned the pro-democracy efforts to oust Assad, pointing out how religious liberty and the Christian communities have been protected under his leadership.
“The future is difficult to foresee,” the archbishop said. “Until now, there has been a good level of freedom of religion in Syria and good relations between Christians and Muslims. It could be difficult if that changed.”
The nuncio said Christians, who make up about 8 percent of Syria’s population, “are respected. They are not fanatics. They play a role of building bridges and live in peace with Muslims and Druze in the villages.”
While life is difficult for all Syrians, he said, the political tension and the fighting actually has drawn many communities closer together. [More]