His Beatitude, Ignace Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Catholics, was in Rome this past week to share his concerns about the ongoing conflict which erupted in Syria almost a year ago. Over 7.000 people are thought to have been killed in fighting between Syrian army forces and armed opposition groups, with hundreds killed this month alone in the central city of Homs.
During his visit to the Vatican, the Beirut-based Patriarch came to our studios and spoke with Sean Patrick Lovett about his most recent visit to Syria and his fears for the future of the Christian community thereâ€¦
Sean Patrick Lovett (SPL): Your Beatitude, for those of us who are following the situation in Syria, whether we are journalists or the public in general, we tend to be conditioned by what we see in the media and what we read in the media. You yourself have been through Homs. What have you seen? What have you experienced in your visits to Syria?
His Beatitude, Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Yonan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Catholics (HB): As you said, Sean, Iâ€™ve been, last time in Syria, the 1st of February to February 3rd, and I took a ride from the northeast back to Beirut via north Lebanon. What I witnessed: That it was very, very tense situation, but in some parts, like Homs, it was the situation of conflict and of killing and fear among the citizens.
Now regarding the media, I can tell you that we Christiansâ€“ I donâ€™t know if I express the feelings and the thoughts of all Christians â€“ but since I have been following this situation, we feel that we have been deceived by the western nations. Deceived, not only disappointed. Deceived because we think that the West has forgotten the bulk of the situation in the Middle East. Itâ€™s not political, itâ€™s not economical, itâ€™s profoundly confessional, even religious. Because we were thinking that the West will uphold the civil rights for all. Civil rights, that means freedom of religion, of conscience, respecting others, or granting the same rights to all citizens, either from the minority or majority. But this was forgotten because they are thinking, and the media conglomerates are helping in that direction, that if the majority takes the power in those powers in the Middle East, that means that democracy will be reached or will be exercised. We think that democracy is not only because the majority of a population acts according to its convictions, or make decisions freely, but democracy has to respect first of all the basic rights of all.
SPL: Going back specifically, and looking specifically at Syria, the international community keeps using words like the need to negotiate, the need to dialogue amongst the different factions and parties concerned. After so much bloodshed, after so much suffering, is dialogue still possible?
HB: The dialogue is what we call a decision of the people of strong mind and state mind, and good intention for a better life in that nation. Otherwise, if we donâ€™t have that dialogue contributing to the reforms, we are heading to a real chaos, and the chaos in Syria will be disastrous because in this situation there will be no government to handle that situation. It will be a real civil war. And civil war, especially in the name of God.
Look what happened in Iraq. Since I have been Patriarch for the past three years, I already visited Iraq six times. And I witness how the Christian community numbers are dwindling because of that very insecure situation. Now in Iraq we have at least a government trying to keep, or to implement measures for security of the citizens. However, we have lot of bombing and killings. So if that situation in Syria were to develop into civil war, it would be still worse. And this is what we really fear. And we try to tell, especially the western powers: Look, democracy is not a kind of just one day to another. It needs some time. And the best way to build that democracy will be helping all parties to sit together and find a way with the help of international partners, or the Arabic league nations. But at least itâ€™s saying that with regard to help all parties to find a solution together. Itâ€™s not going to be an easy one, but it will be the only way to help that country overcome that, the fears of civil war.
Listen to the complete interview of His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, with Sean Patrick Lovett: