Jesuits in Syria speak out

Article  •  Publié sur Souria Houria le 9 juin 2011
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Here is a translation of the statement on the present events in Syria that was published June 3 by the Jesuits in that country. The priests had gathered in Damascus to pray and reflect on the nation’s current situation.

A bloody crackdown by government forces on protesters who have been calling for the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule since mid-March has left some 1,200 dead, including 77 children.

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We, Jesuits in Syria are distressed by the recent events that have taken place in this country, a country which is so dear to us. We have met together to pray for this country of ours, to intercede for it and to reflect on what is happening in it. The following text, the fruit of our prayer, we desire to share with you.

Syria, an agent of civilization

Syria, a country of multiple civilizations which arrived one after another on our land and have enriched its patrimony. A great part of this richness comes from the interrelation and the harmony between the peoples of a different culture, religion and spirituality. Together, these peoples have formed a unity which we are proud of and to which we hold fast. This lays on us a grave responsibility to preserve this grand heritage.

The history of our country is distinguished by its hospitality and its openness to others, whosoever they be. The spirit of hospitality, the search for unity in the difference, as also all the efforts leading to the formation of the national unity are, without doubt, at the basis of the Syrian society and form a beautiful and lively mosaic.

The recent events

In the past few months, there arose in our country, as happened in many other Arab ones, demands for the reform of the political and social structures. These reforms envisage that the laws of the land should conform to the feeling of the citizens in respecting individual liberties. Of these demands there is the legitimate right, recognized by everyone, which allows the citizen to be an actor in the transformation of this society.

Unfortunately, confusion has taken the upper hand, opening the way to violence. The rejection of the other person, as we all know, is the principal cause of violence which in its turn calls for more violence. At the moment we are observing efforts to foment trouble leading to a religious war which threatens to disintegrate our society.

In face of these bloody events which week after week increase in intensity, duration and violence, and which are making innocent victims, we cannot but emit a cry of anguish appealing to the conscience of our citizens, to whichever party they belong.

Such difficult circumstances have not been the first crisis that our people have lived through. In spite of that, as in every crisis, we have found in the Gospel the path to follow, indicating to us the right choice, the patience to trudge along, and the courage to be silent when necessary or to speak when we must.

As a matter of fact, the Gospel calls upon us to give witness amidst our people to strengthen the dialogue with everyone and to promote justice for everyone. This is why we feel we are called upon to assert our full support to our country and to its people and to give witness to the values which we derive from our faith. We think we can share these values with our fellow citizens of different religious and spiritual beliefs and of different philosophical trends. We can do this because we share with them all the heritage of the noble Arab civilization, as also the same concern for the national unity and the same respect for everyone.

The changes which are taking place in the Arab world and the current troubles which have erupted in the Syrian Society carry with them a new hope which has to be taken into consideration. This hope is characterized in the first place by the freedom of expression and the liberty of opinion as also by the common search for the truth. The social and political reforms have become a pressing necessity which no one has the right to ignore.

The priority of national unity

What characterizes a human community is the diversity of its components. There is no social life if there are no differences. A truly national peace cannot be built if one part of the population is excluded in favour of the other part; on the contrary it supposes a true life in common. This life is not possible in the negative perception of the presence of the other, in a simple existence “side by side”; it requires a true conviviality where each member has an effective role to play in society.

This is why we share our fears with our people in facing the present challenges; these fears arise with the changes in the structure. What then is the positive role we must take in the present circumstances, complex as they may be?

Without doubt, is it not true to say that we, Christians, consider national unity as a guarantor of our very existence, and that the loss of this unity is a threat for our disappearance, our growing ruthless and our disintegration? This is why we intend to take on the role which allows us to strengthen our national unity, reactivating those values which to us seem essential.

Dialogue and freedom of expression

It is not possible for us to mention all the causes of the present crisis, but we ask ourselves how to go beyond this dolorous situation and arrive at a sincere tentative dialogue between all the parties. This dialogue is not an easy matter for it presupposes trust on one side towards the other and listening to what the other has to say. We should also seriously consider the ideas of the other side even if these ideas differ from ours. There is no true dialogue without previously acknowledging that “no one has the full truth”. This means that the essential aim of a dialogue is the common search for what comes closest to the truth; the common search supposes that all parties, with no one excluded, are invited to participate.

Such a dialogue makes it necessary for everyone to be sufficiently self-conscient so as not to be driven astray by different channels of tendentious information. The Christian adult frees himself from his negative preconceived ideas; he tries by the dialogue, by the humility of dialoguing and listening, to acknowledge the objective data in order to build a bridge between the antagonistic currents existing within the society. The Christian adult is an efficient actor in the construction of modern public opinion, an essential condition for a successful reform.

Rejection of violence

We sincerely invite all parties to reject violence. The choice for non-violence does not derive from a sentiment of fear or of weakness; it is the expression of an essential evangelical principle and a constitutive element of our human life and of our faith.

The Church teaches us the necessary distinction between violence emanating from hatred and the legitimate use of force to contain an aggression against society. This legitimate use of force is allowed on condition that those who resort to it fully respect the dignity of all persons whatever their attitude to them may be.

We refuse to enter into the vicious circle which gives rise to fear the other person and stifle all the good intentions which seek to build up one’s country.

Every believer should purify his heart of contempt and of hate as also of the fear which would seem to him to justify the use of violence. Moreover, every believer should in all sections of social life, in the family, in the street or at work, be an efficient element for the national unity to be realized. He may not take refuge in a negative neutrality, but must be an instrument of peace.

In this context we hope that the sincere national sentiments which have much animated people during the past days would not be an excuse for the use of such discourse as to ignore or despise the other person, for that would annihilate all possibility of communication with him.

We convey our most profound condolences to all the families of the victims and we commit ourselves to help them, as much as we possibly can, whoever they are without distinction, so as to alleviate their suffering.

In conclusion, regarding the gravity of the situation, for the sake of all those who shed their blood, we implore the Syrians of all parties to activate themselves without delay to construct a sincere national dialogue with a view to ending this crisis.

We implore God the Almighty so that our first objective for everyone be the interest and the dignity of every Syrian citizen. In this way we renounce all narrow exclusivism, while seeking against all odds to safeguard the well-being of the nation.

Damascus, June 3, 2011

SOURCE : Meditations on Syria (Jesuit Curia in Rome) – Statement of Jesuits in Syria (Zenit)
Date : 3/6/2011