From the Apostolic Church of Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11: 26), I bring to you a message of peace, with sincere love, unwavering faith, and undying hope.
Today, our beautiful homeland is overtaken by adverse conflicts that tear our communities apart and attempt to shatter our faithful’s aspiration for peaceful living. This current violence is unprecedented in our region, not even heard of in the “dark ages.” Heathen wars waged by extremist religious groups unrelated to any religions known in our land. These are rather expressions of radicalism that lack the minimum humane feelings, sensibility and conscience.
Thus, we ask: who is held responsible for this systematic displacement of our villagers and citizens? Who does mourn with the mothers having lost their children? Who does lament the demolished houses and places of worship or the provinces emptied from their indigenous people living there from the beginning of time? Does anyone comfort the hostages, visit the prisoners, and care for the injured? Perhaps, the world wants to ignore the strife of the enslaved women, of the pregnant who have been stabbed in the womb, and of the children who are forcibly enlisted. Does anyone attempt to console the parents of the kidnapped persons, still waiting for their long gone beloved ones? Truly, the Biblical saying is fulfilled in our case: “Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted because they are no more” (Mt 2:18; Jer 31:15).
I cannot fathom how the world community ignores the case of the bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, and of the other priests taken hostage over four years now. I cannot comprehend how the political leaders of this world could stand, crossing their arms and watching the bloody violence in our country, only to favor economic and geopolitical interests that serve their short-sighted inhumane schemes.
They steadfastly tighten their blockades against a hungry people, giving wide way to the weapon market. Should we not reckon by experience that violent takfirism does not limit itself to a geographical spot, nor does it target our people and churches of the Levant exclusively; it rather infiltrates every part of the world?
Despite all this pain, our Antiochian Church dearly pursues the dialogue with Christians and non-Christians, looking forward to meeting others, and to embracing them with the love of the Gospel and the steady hope that “maketh not ashamed” (Rom 5:5). Our people believes in peace and strives to make it. In our history, we have strived to avoid wars and the weapon language, having witnessed throughout the ages that the mindset of violent confrontation only ends in destruction, dispersion and deepening the wounds of hatred and enmity. It never builds nations, democracies, and freedom.
Today, our Christians of the Levant are looking for someone to hear their call; but in vain. In our country, we are ones who call for peace and reconciliation. As we formerly said, we are not begging the powers of this world for mercy, but we rather shout at them: enough of your fabricated statements that call nations to receive Christians. The world would do much better by spreading the culture of dialogue in our Levant, and by wiping away the culture of the sword. Release our country from the grasp of terrorism; stop the weapon flow, and draw your ships back! The vessels of war cannot protect us, nor can the ships of emigration! Implanting the roots of peace can only protect us. We are rooted here, all over the Levant, for two thousand years now! We were born here, we have lived here, and here will we die.
Nowadays, humankind is in dire need of an authentic dialogue and encounter that go beyond the obstacles and sins of narrow-minded politics. It lacks a political humane approach based on reconciliation and consensus, an approach that leaves behind rigid ideologies and prejudice, and that breaks the obstacles, masks and complications of history. Isn’t it now the right time to confess that the political schemes and ostensible dialogues led by many only render sterile the efforts in a barren land, abused by materialistic and arrivistic motives and perverse models self-imposed by the societies of men?
We must stand against the absurd exploitation and political subjugation of religion in our days. Hence, from this tribune, I stand, urging the religious leaders from all denominations in every country to raise loud the motto: “Faith for Peace”. Thus, we shall be messengers of peace in a world that badly needs it.
Today, we are called to meet and join efforts, so that we offer together to the world a real model of peace in our relationships, our convictions, and our conduct towards others. This is the way to grant peace to the world, to testify that only the real peace found in the heart of man, both as an individual and in community, can heal every wound in the historical memory and in human relations.
Our peoples, of diverse religious backgrounds and cultural identities, have things in common that exceed their differences. In the Levant, we have always felt the value of coexistence with brothers of different beliefs and cultural backgrounds. We have experienced that diversity is vital and enriching for humanity, and for cultural interaction, inventive art, aesthetics, and intellectual creations.
We all need to move forward to reconciliation. It is essential to set forth a meeting of mutual dialogue and acquaintance. Are we all aware of our role in the culture of disuniting peoples? Do we strive to overcome the obstacles of history and to build a better future for our children?
No doubt that it is high time that the suffering experience should rather bring together peoples instead of putting them apart, making humankind more sensible to reconsider the contemporary political, social and religious activities. We are in strong need to collaborate in healing our societies through heartfelt reconciliation and tolerance.
Finally, I assure you, sisters and brothers, that in the Church of Antioch and All the East, we live in great hope, and we believe that peaceful coexistence and sincere dialogue between all religions, communities, and cultures is the foundation for permanent reconciliation and real peace-making.