Father Jacques Mourad was prior of the Mar Elian monastery, a pilgrimage centre near the city of al-Qaryatayn that was briefly occupied by ISIS, which destroyed the monastery and kidnapped the monk in November 2015. He was held for five months, before he managed to escape. Now based in Europe, he spoke Oct. 17, 2016, with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church about the situation in Syria.
By Berthold Pelster
In early April 2016, al-Qaryatayn was finally freed from ISIS. How is the situation there now?
The city may have been liberated, but normal, everyday life is not yet possible. Most houses have been destroyed. But at least electricity and water have in the meantime been restored. However, most people have not yet returned to al-Qaryatayn. The fear that ISIS will come back is great.
The war in Syria continues unabated. Peace negotiations have repeatedly failed. Many people are fleeing, including Christians. How great is the danger that Christianity will be obliterated in the Middle East?
This obliteration has already become reality. There are regions in Iraq and Syria that no longer have any Christian inhabitants. But the people are not fleeing willingly. They have no other choice. This is especially true for the Christians in Syria, because we are a small minority. The violence that reigns in Syria is unbearable. I do not understand why other countries refuse to see this reality and take action. The world must finally react!
What actions are needed?
If the world is really serious about putting an end to the ravages of the fanatics, then it will have to stop doing business with Saudi Arabia. Because that is where the funding and weapons for ISIS are coming from. Bombing achieves nothing. The US has been bombing Syria and Iraq for years, and now the Russians are doing so too. And what have they achieved? Have they stopped the terrorist violence? Absolutely not!
What is the solution?
The solution cannot be simply eliminating those who persecute us. The only way of stopping the extremists is to enter into a dialogue with Islam. That has been my personal experience. We—all the Christians of my old parish—decided not to resort to violence, even despite the danger. That is why we are still alive. An ISIS leader told us exactly that: “You ‘People of the Book,’ [the term used for Jews and Christians in the Koran] do not even use violence against us.”
Thus, non-violence and dialogue are what Christians can and should contribute?
Last spring, I had the following inspiration during Mass: our world needs a revolution against violence. Only then will it be able to find peace. We want to be instruments of peace. This is how we did it in Mar Elian—we provided aid to the local people without considering any distinctions of religion.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)