H.H Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II to ST: Syrian Society is a ‘Tolerant Society’

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church has underscored that providing relief aid, achieving development and explaining the reality of events to the West have been the main activities of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate during the crisis in Syria, started in 2011.   

His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II told the Syriatimes e-newspaper that the relief works have mainly been done by St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee (EPDC), which has offered immediate help and assistance to all those in need, while development has been achieved through creating job opportunities and funding small projects that help families, to earn their own living and to have some small income, especially the youths.

 These humanitarian works inside Syria coincided with a third activity related to explaining the reality of events to the West, he said.

“We have made visits to countries in Europe and America where we could better explain the reality events in Syria. This included collaboration with different churches as well as building bridges with Syrians who migrated from Syria (recently or long before the crisis). We also try to help by asking the local governments and churches in the West, where Syrians have sought refuge, to help those who have reached there because they are there and they need assistance to survive,” the Patriarch added.

The West has wrong impression about Syria

His Holiness affirmed that western officials have wrong impression about Syria because of misleading reports being circulated by the western media outlets.

“During our visits abroad, we made sure to convey the reality of what is happening in Syria, especially when meeting officials. The reactions we saw were that they were mostly surprised that they had wrong impressions about Syria conveyed to them through the western media. We also encouraged foreign delegations to visit Syria and to see for themselves what is happening here. We invited delegations (and NGOs) to come and have firsthand experience of what is truly happening and witness directly to the Syrian people’s experience. The delegations left with different impressions than the ones they came with.”

Laicity of the government

As for the mechanism of disseminating the principle of citizenship among the Syrian people at this time, His Holiness made it clear that the best way to do that is through the involvement of all Syrians in the reconstruction of Syria.

“It means to make all part of this effort, with equal rights and duties. This is possible if we preserve the laicity of the government and not mix religion and public life. Religion is private; it has to do with the faith of the people and their private life. Engagement in the civic society is public; it should be open to all citizens alike.”

The Patriarch underscored that the Syrian society is a tolerant society, applying the principle of equal citizenship strengthens tolerance among the citizens and encourages involvement in the public life of the country.

It is a time of peace for the whole world

Asked about His holiness’s message to the Syrian people, the people of Palestine and the world on the occasion of Christmas and the New Year, the patriarch replied: “This time of the year reminds us all of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem which was hailed by the angels who welcomed His advent.”

“It is a time of peace for the whole world. We pray for a true and complete peace for the beloved Syria as well as for the entire region. We, likewise, pray for peace for the people of al-Quds and Bethlehem as they try to defend their legitimate right. We reject the declaration of the President of the United States of America concerning al-Quds and we insist that the al-Quds should be accessible by people of all faiths and should be recognized as the capital of Palestine,” His Holiness concluded.

Interviewed by: Basma Qaddour