By Benedict Mayaki
The archbishop of Damascus reiterates the important presence of the Catholic Church in a country where violence has claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives and has led to the forced migration of millions.
Syria has been at war for the past nine years. What began as protests against the regime of President Assad in 2011 degenerated into a war between the Syrian government and anti-government rebel groups.
Speaking to the Vatican Radio, Archbishop Samir Nassar, of Damascus of the Maronites in Syria, touched on pertinent issues such as justice, inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, migration, and the application of the social teachings of the Church in the context of Syria.
Church presence despite war
Speaking on the presence of the Church, Archbishop Nassar affirmed the Church’s perseverance. “We are still there. All bishops and priests, still there… we still keep going.”
On the effect of the war on the Church, he said, “We are a very old church. Sometime in the past, we had more than 33,000 churches in Syria. Now, we only have some hundreds… we have lost a lot … we have lost more than fifty percent of our number …We are a minority. We used to be about five percent, now we are maybe two percent.”
Role of the Church
Reiterating the Apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict at the Synod for the Church in the Middle East in 2012, Archbishop Nassar advocates for a stronger place for the laity in the Church, better relations between the Catholic Church and Muslims, and the practice of the Church’s social teachings as means of assuring the Church’s mission in Syria.
“We have to change the situation. Everybody is closing his country against the neighbor. We have to open these frontiers to each other and live in one community, one fraternity of people. This is the meaning of Christian life, this the meaning of our religion,” said Archbishop Nassar.
Archbishop Samir Nassar hailed Sunday’s meeting of Bishops of the Mediterranean countries in Bari as a good initiative towards the protection of the victims of the war in Syria. He said that the meeting, that foresees the presence of Pope Francis, is a good step towards the achievement of peace in the Mediterranean area.
“If we start in the Mediterranean, we can later on go to other areas in the world so that we can have peace everywhere.”