Four years after the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the humanitarian crisis has not ceased to worsen and there are no signs of improvement. More than 200,000 people have died, according to United Nations calculations and, from the humanitarian perspective, the suffering caused by the crisis is overwhelming.
Of a total population of 22 million, more than half needs humanitarian aid inside Syria. Added to this are the approximately 7.6 million people displaced from their homes. Some 11.6 million need immediate access to water and health care.
In February of 2015 there were more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, of which one million are in Lebanon and 600,000 in Jordan.
In this interview with ZENIT, held in Madrid on the occasion of his participation in a conference on the Christian East and the Arab World, the Melkite Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabrud, Monsignor Jean Abdo Arbach, indicates that the Christians want to stay in Syria and the displaced want to return to their homes.
For the Archbishop of Homs, the crisis the country is going through is the fruit of a world war on Syrian soil. Likewise, he calls on the International Community to give a worthy solution for the families and millions of children who are hungry and sick and need access to education.
* * *
ZENIT: At present there are two fronts in Syria: the civil war and the offensive launched by the Caliphate in the region. How long will this situation continue?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: The crisis in Syria is not a civil crisis. It is a world war on Syrian territory. When will the conflict end in Syria? We are talking about an international question. Syria wants peace and tranquillity. People are now tired and want to return to their homes. They want to live with dignity. We need peace. As the Pope said: “May arms be silenced!” So the arms should be silenced.
ZENIT: Is it possible to find a dialogued solution to the crisis?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: Who has to dialogue? I want to answer clearly. No one can impede dialogue. Thank God, an internal dialogue began today in Russia between the Government and the Syrian Opposition. So, there is dialogue. They are speaking in general. They will either find a solution or not. The Opposition is influenced by the International Community; it doesn’t have a clear opinion on the solution. This is the problem. When there is freedom and dignity to say the truth, one can come to a firm dialogue. The war ends.
Today, the whole of the Middle East is in flames. We don’t know who is responsible. It’s not only Syria. It’s necessary that the International Community, together with the present governments, find a fitting solution for the people, for the families, the children.
ZENIT: What is the Church doing to mitigate all this suffering?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: The Church is working very much. There are permanent meetings of the Pope with the Patriarchs. There are also meetings of the Bishops of Syria with the Patriarchs. And the Church helps. However, the Church isn’t the problem. There are some difficulties. How can aid be made to reach Syria? Given that the country suffers a blockade by Europe and the United States, we have many difficulties for materials to enter in Syria. The Church helps, the Church dialogues, the Church is present everywhere. The Church was never lacking. There is also a dialogue with the Muslim leaders. We organize many meetings to promote reconciliation between the peoples themselves. Thank God, we were able to do much work on this subject.
ZENIT: Does the West’s attitude affect the Christian minority?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: The problem posed is if the West wants the Christians to stay in their countries of origin. We are talking of countries where the roots of Christianity are found. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq …. are the cradle of Christianity. What does Europe think of the Christians today?
For instance, before the Gulf War there were 1.2 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are hardly 200,000. Then the emigration of Christians is due to the presence of the Europeans and the United States. That’s why I ask myself: What is the future of Christians in the Middle East? Moreover, the Christians want to stay. They want to live in their land. Their roots are there.
ZENIT: What are the fears of Syrian Christians?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: In a certain sense, there is no fear. There is fear of Daesh [Arab acronym of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, ndr] and of the extremists. They are not afraid of the Government. On the contrary, the Government protects us. Thank God, we are very well where the authority of the Government continues. We celebrated Easter, we prayed, Christians and Muslims coexist together … There are no problems. The problem are the places where there are extremists, of Daesh or of the Al-Nusra Front. That’s the problem. We cannot pray at all, we cannot enter a church, we cannot go out at night, we can’t do anything. There is no freedom; there is terror. Another fear or doubt is: What is my future? Do I stay or will I have to live through another war later. Christians of the Middle East are already used to living this way, step by step. Every 25 years there is a war.
ZENIT: And the hopes?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: We have very great hope and very great faith. Hope and faith have never been lacking. We live for this. And the presence of the Church among the faithful is very important. Christian families must be supported. My presence and that of my Brother Bishops in these places, the presence of the priests in the parishes, helps Christian families very much. Given that there is no peace or security, what can we do? There is a certain fear.
ZENIT: The Council of the Leaders of the Christian Confessions of Aleppo has just made a firm appeal …
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: The Syrian people can no longer go on. They are tired. Aleppo suffered much earlier. Now they are bombing the city with rockets again. Everything is clear at the international level. They know who is fighting against whom. It’s necessary that the International Community work urgently in this regard, to stop these deeds. Yes or no? Who gave arms to the rebels? How many times have our Patriarchs said clearly that they must stop sending arms and money? When one doesn’t eat, he stops living. It’s the same thing. When the rebels are not fed, the deed is done. They have to surrender. They feed them so that the conflict won’t end.
ZENIT: What message would you like to give the public?
Archbishop Abdo Arbach: My message is clear. As the Gospel says, work for peace, work for justice. Enough of arms! Enough of violence! By God, please, mercy for the children. Millions of children are hungry and sick. They need work to be done in favor of education. Enough of violence! Today our children go out to the streets with …. It’s not our culture. Our culture is love, charity, reconciliation, working together …[Translation by ZENIT]