I am writing these thoughts under the impact of the news concerning the reception of displaced Syrians in the European Union (September 2015). Both Syrian Christians and Muslims are being displaced. Muslims constitute the majority of them, but even though the number of displaced Christians is smaller, yet these relatively large numbers of Christians migrating and being displaced represent red lines for the Christian presence and role in the Middle East, cradle of Christianity.
I am addressing the West in particular about the risk of migration of Syrians, especially Christian Syrians. I say:
- Arabism is being displaced, as we Christians are its advocates! Someone said at the beginning of the crisis in Syria: Keep your Christians to preserve your Arabness!
- Democracy, whose children and advocates we are, is being displaced!
- Co-existence, in which we are partners and major advocates, is being displaced!
- Partnership and plurality is being displaced…
- Christian-Muslim life-dialogue is being displaced.
- The builders of the age-old Christian culture are being displaced!
- Our churches are being transformed into museums!
- War has demolished stone, the church of stone, but you are now deserting and tearing down the human Church!
- Our churches are made sad and nostalgic for the voices of young people and girl- and boy-scouts playing drums …
- Our Church of the Orient (meaning, whence light dawns) is being made into a senescent Church, alone, weak, sad and powerless!
- Social institutions, where both Muslims and Christians have been living and learning together Christian and Islamic religious education have become empty.
Dear West! Fellow-Christians in the West, thank you for your attention to the displaced … but we say to you that the greatest good that you can do for Christians and Muslims alike in the Arab East is to work for peace! You should join together – the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the European Union, South America, China, and the Arab countries, all without exception, including Iran and Turkey … all unite together for peace! Thus we shall all be victorious together over takfirism, exclusion and atheism, violence and terrorism and suicide bombing.
The lure of migration is our greatest loss! It is a trap to which people are drawn perhaps ignorantly and unawares! Or, God forbid, for suspicious and criminal reasons!
You are removing constituent elements of our nation! And … the whole world is losing a model of living together, for we Muslims and Christians have been living together over 1436 [Islamic] years, without wars, despite some disagreements and conflicts … but over the years peace and coexistence have outweighed controversy!
You countries participating in the latest plan to receive displaced Syrians, I’ve perused your programme in Europe and America (which makes no mention of any Arab country!!!). The upshot of the programme is that you are drawing hundreds of thousands of misguided and displaced Syrians to your countries!
Reckoning on the basis of the number of persons displaced from Syria to date, the number of Syria’s migrants and displaced people, most of whom are Muslims, is projected to be some three to four million by the end of this year. Since the Christian minority was the first to migrate and flee … for the Church this means reaching red lines, and the threat of the Arab East being emptied of its Arab Christians!
As Patriarch, I warn the world of the consequences of this policy and these measures and decisions taken by Western countries: it will mean slow death to Christians!
That is why I am raising my voice aloud against these measures. I realise that there are negative reactions to my positions here and there, as I know through social media … and there are those who launch insults at me … and I accept it and bear it. But I am convinced of my position, because I love this people, this Arab community, the Arab world, which I cannot bear to see disintegrate during this migration of its components, losing its plurality, the beauty of living together due to this emigration….
That is why I am resisting these Western measures and asking Western countries to revise their decisions. This is my position and was also the position of Lebanon’s Christians, when the USA had ships moored off the port of the capital, Beirut, and was inviting Christians to emigrate during the Lebanese civil war! Christians rejected that plan.
Do not let us fall into this trap! Let us not fall in with this experiment! We shall resist and I call on my people to adopt the position of a Muslim and Christian civil society and Church, to resist this plan, which as I said, I hope is inspired by noble humanitarian sentiments. But whatever the intent behind it, it is destructive for us and for our Syrian society with its Christians and Muslims.
On the other hand, I am addressing with respect and love and trust and appreciation all the heads of state and leaders of countries that have decided to receive such large numbers of displaced Syrians; I address you with great respect and appreciation, love and trust, and resolutely humane conviction, and through the vision of an Arab Christian Church with wide horizons, and in the spirit of the Gospel … declare in the words of the Lord Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God!” and share with you these basic thoughts:
- A common position has to be reached that includes all countries of the world: European states, without exception, as well as Arab and regional countries, without exception, and even the whole Islamic world, without exception, to confront the phenomenon of takfirism, violence and terrorism.
- Alongside this unity in the overall global position, the greatest and most influential factor in any successful campaign to break the power of the takfiri groups will be literary and intellectual.
- This comprehensive global position would be more effective in defeating these groups than the arsenals of weapons flowing into the region, fuelling the fire of war in our Arab countries.
- This is the global stance and position of spiritual and really humanitarian faith, stronger than the force of arms!
- A comprehensive global decision for peace in the region can be made on the basis of solving two dilemmas which are crucial to peace in the region, as stated by Pope Francis during his visit to the Holy Land from Jordan on 24 May 2013, “There are two keys to peace in the region and in the Middle East and in the whole world:
- a comprehensive solution to the crisis in Syria
- justice for Palestinians, which means resolving the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict.”
Failure to achieve peace in the Middle East means behaving in such a way as will lead to a third world war, which has in fact already begun.
I hope my voice may be heard and the voice of millions of people in the Arab world, especially in Syria, who are exposed to migration and death from violence and terrorism. Their voices are all calling for the desired peace, which is the greatest good for our world mired in war!
May God inspire you with all that is for the good for the region’s peoples that aspire to peace, security and stability, and to a decent living, and to the values of the world of faith, hope and love, which are timeless values of spiritual faith, which is the best asset of our historic and authentic heritage.
Work for Arab unity, which is a warranty for regional peace and Christian and Muslim living together and for the Christian role.
Meanwhile, I call upon my Syrian brothers and sisters, both Christian and Muslim, especially young people and families, to solidarity together, in order to fight the destructive ideas of migration, which are demolishing our society and our way of life and killing our Muslim-Christian Syrian Arab heritage.
I beseech and implore you to stay together! Protect your country from becoming a human, moral and social vacuum caused by this escalating migration! Christians and Muslims, protect one another from the danger of this mass migration and the risk of those calling for a mass exodus.
This migration will jeopardise the future of the country of origin of the displaced (Syria) and the host countries. If Syria is to avoid this historic tragedy of migration and a war similar to the Armenian and Syriac genocides … we call on our beloved citizens to steadfastness and unity and national solidarity … and also call on the states of the European Union to review their position on displaced persons … and especially, as I said earlier, to work hard and rapidly take the final resolution to end the war and end the supply of weapons, and restore security and peace. This is the remedy of the bravest for the tragedy of migration.
Let me ask the Arabs, why the Arab League is not meeting to address the war situation in the region, particularly in Syria, and the tragic situation of migration, which is causing the loss of its youth and the builders of its future!
Have mercy on Syria! Make a public affirmation of peace in the region! This is the sought-for breakthrough; this is a bright future not only for Syria, but for the whole region.
With my love and my blessing
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Of the Greek Catholics