DAMASCUS, Syria (CNS) – Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, visiting war-torn Syria, condemned “the death of the world’s conscience” in its response to the violence in the Middle East.
In a homily June 7 at the Maronite Cathedral of St. Anthony in Damascus, Cardinal Bechara Rai also issued a call for peace, “for stopping the war, for political solutions and for the honored return” of the 12 million Syrians who have been uprooted by the country’s four-year civil war.
“We condemn injustice, the death of the world’s conscience and all those who provide arms and money for sabotage, destruction, killing and displacement,” Cardinal Rai said.
Following Mass, the patriarch inaugurated a new Maronite social center. His pastoral visit to the Syrian capital also included attending the inauguration of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate and participating in the annual meeting June 8 of the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern patriarchs.
The religious leaders chose to meet this year in Damascus instead of Lebanon to reassure Middle East Christians troubled by war and displacement.
“We will reflect together, we unite in thought, word and deed, bringing together the concern of our people in Syria and Iraq as well as in various countries of the Middle East … in the hope that this Way of the Cross is followed by the Resurrection,” Cardinal Rai said of the patriarchs’ meeting.
“We carry the cause of all Christians, people of Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen and any country that suffers,” the cardinal said.
“We, the five Eastern patriarchs, are here to pray for peace. We pray for peace in Syria and the region; we pray for the dead conscience of the international community. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Syria, and that Syrians – Christians and Muslims – remain attached to their land, and for the return to their homes in dignity, of those that the war displaced.”
Cardinal Rai also urged the faithful to persevere and hold on to hope, despite numerous atrocities.
“Despite proponents of war, those who fund (it) and mercenaries who make a trade and profit, I am convinced that this wave of violence is fleeting. We are invited to hold on. Many have shed their blood, many were martyred but their blood was not shed in vain. Many also have been forced to flee,” he said.
“I add my voice to that of Pope Francis, who does not let a week go by without praying for peace in Syria,” Cardinal Rai added. “The essential thing is not to lose our Christian maturity. That is the meaning of what we will discuss (during the meeting). We patriarchs are with you, before you, with you in prayer.”
Cardinal Rai last visited Syria in February 2013 for the enthronement of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and all the East. His visit was considered an historic milestone because it was the first by the head of the Maronite Church since Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943.
Lebanon, roughly the size of Delaware, is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Prior to the onslaught of waves of refugees, Lebanon’s population was around four million. Now about one in every four people in the country is a Syrian.