Church Leaders: Syrian Christians Need Help, Not Military Intervention

September 6, 2013 - 12:39 AM

syrian church

A destroyed church in the Syrian city of Homs (Photo: Barnabas Fund)

(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of a day of prayer and fasting for Syria on Saturday, called for by Pope Francis, a Christian charity working in the country said church leaders there are appealing for help, not military intervention.

“As U.S. President Barack Obama rallies support for a military strike on Syria, Christian leaders from the country have called on Western nations to focus their efforts instead on providing aid to help meet the ‘dire need’ of the suffering people,” said Barnabas Fund.

In a letter Thursday to G20 leaders meeting in Russia, Pope Francis urged them to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” in Syria.

“Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community,” he wrote.

“Moreover, all governments have the moral duty to do everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance to those suffering because of the conflict, both within and beyond the country’s borders.”

Asked for the White House response to the pope’s appeal, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in St. Petersburg he had not seen the letter, but “clearly, we always welcome the views of the Catholic Church, which has a longstanding commitment to the promotion of peace.”

The pope has called for “a special day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria” on Saturday, inviting “men and women of goodwill” of whatever faith to join wherever and however they may, and for Catholics in Rome to take part in an evening prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent letters to every member of Congress, urging them not to support military action in Syria.

The letter from USCCB president Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the chairman of its committee on international justice and peace, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, said Pope Francis and bishops in the Middle East “have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.”

“Their concerns strongly resonate in American public opinion that questions the wisdom of intervention and in the lack of international consensus.”

Syria church mosaic

A religious mosiac, its protective glass broken, is seen in a church damaged by mortar fire in a Christian village in Idlib province, captured by rebels in January 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

‘What guarantees can you give Christians?’

Barnabas Fund, an international organization supporting Christians in Muslim-majority countries, quoted one of its partners in Syria, Aleppo Baptist leader Jany Haddad, as saying, “We urge Western authorities to take the measures necessary to protect our Christian civilians in the country. We ask them to shift their thoughts towards increasing financial support to our Christian societies and communities because of their dire need at this time.”

“On behalf of Syrian Christians and other minority communities, we entreat Western governments to alleviate the suffering of our people by providing urgent humanitarian aid, as our communities are in dire need,” said Rosangela Jarjour, the Homs-based general-secretary of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.

“The majority have been displaced from their homes with hardly anything to subsist on; most are jobless, homeless, and in danger of abduction and assaults by radical militants,” she said.

Barnabas Fund international director Patrick Sookhdeo said “the plight of Syria’s Christians has been tragically overlooked by Western governments. I pray that they will heed the cries of these Christian leaders from the country as they consider what action to take.”

Since the Syrian civil war began Barnabas Fund says it has provided practical aid to an estimated 139,000 Syrian Christians, many of whom are internally displaced, “having had to flee their homes as a result of targeted violence against them by Islamist rebels.”

“Christians are being singled out for violent attack, kidnap, torture, sexual assault and murder; their homes have been taken over in violent raids. Christian leaders have been particularly targeted, and numerous church buildings have been deliberately destroyed.”

The organization’s honorary U.S. director, Anglican Bishop Julian Dobbs, has written to Obama, urging him to consider the consequences for Christians as he mulls military action against the Assad regime in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.

“Military action that results in the demise of President Assad’s forces would almost certainly allow a strengthened al-Qaeda presence in Syria that would result in significant and increased persecution of Syrian Christians,” he wrote.

Citing “the destruction of the Iraqi Christian community” in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war there, Dobbs asked Obama, “What guarantees of security and religious freedom can you and your administration give to the already suffering Christian community in Syria if a military intervention is initiated by the United States?”

Dobbs concluded by noting that Muslim extremists view minority Christians as allies of the West on account of their faith, and that Christians will therefore be “at greater risk than other minorities in the aftermath of a U.S. strike on their country.”

archbishop of canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (AP Photo, File)

‘Open season on Christians’

The titular leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans (Episcopalians), Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who earlier urged caution as the British government weighed arming Syrian rebels, is also leery about military intervention.

During a recent speech in the House of Lords in London, he said a senior Christian leader in the region had told him that “intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities.”

“They will surely suffer terribly (as they already are) if action goes ahead,” Welby continued. “And that consequence has to be weighed against the consequences of inaction.”

“If we take action that diminishes the chance of peace and reconciliation, when inevitably a political solution has to be found, whether it’s near term or in the long term future, then we will have contributed to more killing and this war will be deeply unjust,” he said.

Barnabas Fund director Sookhdeo, an expert on radical Islam who is also director of the non-profit Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, said in a new analysis on the Syrian civil war that because of the positions being taken by various parties “the Christians find themselves increasingly being supported by China and Russia whereas their historic supporters in terms of religious liberty and human rights are turning out to be the ones who are supporting the radical Islamists and denying their fundamental freedoms.”

“The West, in supporting the rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, may well find that they are closely supporting radical Islamists allied to al-Qaeda, which could not only prove to be the death knell of a moderate, tolerant, multi-religious Syria in the aftermath of Assad but also result in a radical Islamist government riven with sectarianism and extremism that may ultimately destroy the Church,” he argued.

“So as Barack Obama this week tries to rally support for his plans to conduct a military strike on Syria, he and other Western leaders need to consider the wider background to this conflict. I am greatly concerned that any military intervention will only further escalate hostilities in an already highly charged environment.”