Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan, the Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, has said that the challenge for Christians in Iraq and Syria is “not only how to live our Christian vocation, but how to survive,” and that the Church is “caring for them.”
In an interview with ZENIT, Patriarch Younan reflected on the struggles facing the families in his region, saying he is “very concerned for his people.”
Moreover, he speaks on whether his hopes for the synod were fulfilled, and whether it will help his people.
In late July, Pope Francis called the Catholic Patriarch to reassure him that he is following news out of Iraq with concern, especially the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul.
Islamic militants have been threatening Mosul’s Christians with death and seizure of their homes unless they left or converted to their form of Islamic belief. Iraq’s second largest city is now without a Christian presence for the first time in nearly two thousand years.
Patriarch Younan has denounced attacks by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), including an arson of the episcopal headquarters of the Syriac-Catholic Church in Mosul. He was also one of the six patriarchs of the Middle East to participate in a summit in Washington this September with U.S. lawmakers to discuss and address the situation facing their people.
ZENIT: Could you please describe yourself briefly for our readers?
Patriarch: Yes, I am Ignatius Youssef III Younan, the Syriac-Catholic Patriarch of Antioch. Our residence, our patriarchal see is located in Beirut, Lebanon.
Patriarch: The Christian families in the Middle East, the whole Middle East, except perhaps in Lebanon, are … All of the families are facing a great challenge: how to keep going, preserving the faith, announcing their faith with their children in a dignified way, and their freedom. But what we did just face the last four months, it’s been incredibly difficult for our families in Iraq, with also, many difficulties, many challenges, for the Christian families in Syria.
So in those two countries, it’s really a kind of a challenge of surviving for us. Not only how to live our Christian vocation, but how to survive. And those who are still staying back home in Iraq and Syria are challenged with so many difficulties. We have so many other challenges with those who fled outside Iraq and Syria. Of course, we’re also, let’s say, split and divided because they are looking for another country where they can live their faith in a dignified way, with freedom of religion and conscience.
And for those who were accepted in foreign countries, still the challenges stay because they have to manage to be integrated into their new society. So we really, we Christians in the Middle East, we have our own problems, added to the problems of the Christian families around the world in facing the challenges in their societies, the globalization, the education of the children, the youth.
So we keep faith and hope that the Lord will help us, our families, to keep the faith and bear witnesses to the Gospel of love and peace.
ZENIT: So do you believe the Synod, in some concrete way, has addressed how to help these families?
Patriarch: In my opinion, the Synod did a very good job analyzing the problems and the difficulties of the Christian families around the world. It’s very different from country to country, or continent to continent, and from south to north. But the Synod did a very good job.
And, as you know, it’s kind of preliminary, in its work for next year’s Synod, where the Synod will take a very clear resolution regarding the Christian families.
ZENIT: Any final thoughts or reflections?
Patriarch: I am very concerned about our people, our people in Iraq and Syria, and I want to spread the word around us, especially in the Western countries, where you have the decisions at the international [level]…
I have to tell them to keep the faithfulness to the principles of true democracy, true freedom, civil freedom, as well as freedom of religion and conscience. And, of course, there will be a great message to our families that the Church is caring about them.