So it seems to Gregorios III, an authentic voice from Syria, from where there is no objective reporting


Patriarch Gregoius IIICurrently a guest in Trier: Patriarch Gregorios III Photo: Bost

Bodo Bost spoke for PAZ with Patriarch Gregorios III, head of some two million Melkites, one of the largest Eastern Churches in union with Rome, based in Damascus, Syria.

PAZ: You have come from a region in crisis. Do you hope that the situation in Syria will settle down again?
Gregorios III: Unfortunately we cannot expect that tomorrow, but perhaps the day after tomorrow. The situation is very tense and will get increasingly so, as there are many outside influences that stoke the fire and  exacerbate the situation, by supplying weapons and funds … Syrians have to find one another, talk with one another, that is the only way for the situation to settle down. That is why I am telling Europe, not to further inflame the situation in Syria, but rather help our people through more trust and confidence. Europe and the USA must stay out of this conflict, as only Syrians alone can resolve this conflict. If Israel is allowed nuclear weapons and other countries not, this generates one-sidedness, which just further inflames hatred, not lessens conflicts in the region. We Eastern Christians are hated by Muslims on account of you, because Christian countries in Europe and the USA cannot manage to bring about a just peace in the Middle East. We want to pray for peace in Jerusalem and the peace of the Holy Land.

PAZ: Will President Bashar Assad reach out to the opposition, even if Europe does nothing towards resolving the crisis in Syria?
Gregorios III: Help us, so we can agree. We have been living together as Christians and Muslims now for over a thousand years. No-one can prescribe for us how we should be shaping our life together. Give us an opportunity, for people in Syria to find one another and shape their future by themselves peacefully.

PAZ: Does the Church support President Assad?
Gregorios III: We don’t need to support any system. We were there already before Assad and before his father and we shall be there after Assad. We are a free Church; we speak with the government to help the people, not to support the regime.

PAZ: What hopes do you place in the Annan plan?
Gregorios III: Without faith in the future there will be no peace and no peace plan can help then. We need optimism and faith in a better future.

PAZ: In what way does foreign influence have a detrimental effect on Syria?
Gregorios III.: A good example of that is the report of the Arab League’s leader of the Observer Mission, General Dabi. His report was objective and fair and issued a good account of the Assad Government; therefore nobody wanted to take any notice of this report.

PAZ: Do you also have any contacts with the Observer Mission?
Gregorios III: Not directly, but people have come and reported to us, so we have learned from their report.

PAZ: What future do you see for Syria?
Gregorios III: The world is not fair. Only God is just and only God can bring peace. The world is ruled by economic interests. Formerly Saudi Arabia and Qatar were quite staunch friends of Syria. Why are they now against Assad? Are the regimes there better for Christians or for human rights? Today Syria is a huge weapons cache and the international community wants to give even more money to Syrian rebels.

PAZ: At the beginning of March the Um Al-Zennar Church (Church of the Mother of God’s Belt) of Homs was torched. This Church is the most significant Christian symbol in the centre of the civil war-torn city of Homs, where the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch had his headquarters from 1933 to 1959 and here there was one of the most important relics in Syria with the Mother of God's belt. What do you know of its destruction?
Gregorios III.: The church was damaged, as it lay in the field of fire of the opposing factions. Actually this important church is in the Christian quarter of Homs. The rebels have dug into this quarter, from which the Christians have fled, and shoot from there at the security forces, which have their positions in the outer suburbs and return the fire from there. We haven’t been able to talk about peaceful demonstrators for a long time now.

PAZ: How is Muslim-Christian dialogue in Syria?
Gregorios III: We have no problems with one another. Interference from abroad is the problem.

PAZ: Why have you come to Trier on pilgrimage to the holy tunic?
Gregorios III: I came for the first time to the holy tunic in Trier with a group organised by Pax Christi in August 1959. At that time the German-French friendship was being prepared. Robert Schuman went at that time on pilgrimage to the holy tunic. It was my first visit to Germany. Since then I have been captivated by the land, its people and its culture. I have such a close relationship to Trier and its people. Through Saint Athanasios, who in the fourth century was banished from Egypt to Trier, Trier also has a relationship to Eastern Christians. And the holy tunic also came originally from Jerusalem, where I was for many years patriarchal vicar of my Church.

PAZ: What meaning does the holy tunic have for you?
Gregorios III: It is a symbol of the unity of the Church. This tunic symbolises the suffering of Christ, but also his resurrection. Yet we must do much more, to reach the communion of all Christians. Unfortunately Europe is weak in faith, so it is afraid of Islamisation. We Christians of East and West must stand together more. The more faith and love and hope there is in the world, the less violence there will be in the world. But this can only come about through God’s grace.

Source:  Translation from German: V. Chamberlain