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Church Leaders Worry About Syria’s Christians

11 Oct 2011 – by Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Pressure being put on the Syrian government could have very bad consequences, especially for Christians, warned the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church.

Attempts to collapse the government “will very probably lead to chaos,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service.

“This chaos, surely — with no means to implement security — will lead to civil war,” said the patriarch, who stressed that a civil war in Syria would not merely be a struggle among political parties to control the power. “It will be confessional (religious), and war in the name of God is far worse than a political struggle. And this is what we fear.”

Patriarch Younan was one of several Christian leaders who spoke with Catholic News Service about the situation facing Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the nation’s population.

He told CNS that Syria needs is a lot of reforms, a multiparty system of government and freedom of speech. He said the church “is all for reforms” and does not support a particular regime.

“But those reforms have to be executed or accomplished through dialogue,” he said, expressing a need for a neutral third party “that could unite those who are in conflict,” the government and the opposition.

The patriarch said the West should push for true democratic reforms rather than just trying to change political systems, which they believe are dictatorial, “into an unknown system where the very, very respect of civil rights is absent.”

“By civil rights, we mean not only the freedom of speech ... but civil rights to implement the religious freedom for all,” Patriarch Younan said. “That means to implement a civil society that respects the charter of human rights as already stipulated by the U.N. in 1948,” he added, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The patriarch said a society that respects all is “absolutely vital,” and the civilized world should uphold this, not just take the position that the majority should rule the country. This is especially the case if the majority is of the conviction that there is no separation between religion and state, he added.

“This would surely result in discrimination against those who do not share their religion,” he said.

“The church has always defended, and it stands for, the civil rights of all human beings,” Patriarch Younan said.

While it would take time to make the needed reforms in the case of Syria, those seeking change for the good of their country “have to be kind of patient and find a way to make those needed reforms.”

“However, it doesn’t look feasible that these reforms will come out of violence,” he said.

Maronite Catholic leaders also have called for dialogue on the situation in Syria.

“We’re neither for nor against a regime,” said Archbishop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate in Beirut and former archbishop of Haifa. “We judge a regime on its merits and how it deals with the values of freedom, democracy and rights.

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Tags: Syria Arab Spring Syriac Christians