Syrian Christians heed Pope's call to pray for peace

DAMASCUS Sat Sep 7, 2013 4:52pm EDT

1 of 3. Syrian women attend mass in the Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus, September 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al Hariri

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Hundreds of Syrian Christians gathered in Damascus on Saturday to pray for peace and protest against possible U.S. military intervention, responding to a call by Pope Francis for a day of prayer and fasting.

During a six-hour service at the al-Zeitouna Church, an ornate Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital's ancient quarter, Syrian-born Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham appealed to Christians to stay in Syria despite the war.

Syria's conflict has grown increasingly sectarian since it started as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 and then evolved into an armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

Majority Sunni Muslims dominate the uprising while minorities have generally stuck with the government, which is dominated by members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Pope Francis, who two days ago called a military solution in Syria "a futile pursuit", led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world on Saturday.

Syrian state television broadcast the ceremonies, billing them as a call for a "return to security and peace in Syria and to oppose any foreign military intervention," a reference to a bid by U.S. President Barack Obama to use military force to punish Assad's government for a chemical weapons attack last month.

Television footage showed some worshippers holding Syrian flags and hand-written signs against military intervention. "Hands off Syria," one read.

Clergy at the Damascus service also referenced the recent violence in Maaloula, a historic Christian town in the center of the country where some inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

"If Maaloula has been hurt, then it is a call for the world to hear: ‘Look, this place, this heritage that you love so much, look what they have done to it'," Laham said as some worshippers wept. He implored Syrian clergy and Christians to resist the temptation to emigrate.

"I beg, beg, beg you, our dears, to remain here. We're staying. If you leave, we leave. So we beg you, stop coming to our priests asking for a visa. Young men, young women, remain here. If you leave, who will remain? Only our brethren the Muslims," he said.

"We shall remain. We shall remain. We shall remain. And as we remain, we shall build the new Syria. If we leave, who will build Syria?"

Laham implored the Muslim majority not to consider Christians "a fifth column".

"At this time in particular, we shall be as close as ever," he said.

At the end of the service, one churchgoer held up the Syrian flag and a sign that said: "Jesus salutes the heroic Syrian Army".

(Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz in Beirut, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (3)
rghtuner wrote:
And to cap the week off, the other night they showed the rebels on the news committing war crimes against the Syrian soldiers by gunning them down in the back as they lie and kneeled on the ground as prisoners and then they had the reporters endorsing their war crimes and signifying how great it was to use such a evil well trained force against Syria. The only thing better would of been showing the rebels shooting the Christian women and children down in the streets and blowing them up in their homes with John McCain standing in the background wearing his POW pin telling us how cool his coward friends are. So is America for war crimes or against them or are they the ones behind the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
It’s hard to believe any political administration could put their entire political policy and course of action in danger in front of an international conference ! This is as much stupidity as any administration has ever shown ! It’s like the nation is being run by a five year old ! Nobody in the world is that stupid ! Not even George Bush !

Sep 07, 2013 5:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
mjsehard wrote:
The term genocide has been thrown around in reference to Assad. The rebels are killing some of the oldest Christian populations in the world. Christian populations that have always been peaceful!! That is closer to genocide than a leader suppressing a rebellion and our government aided it in Egypt and is in the process of doing so in Syria. This is the widest scale of brutal religious persecution since WWII and this president refuses to even mention it and then provides assistance to those doing it. It was American Christians he was attempting to insult with his, “Clinging to guns and religion” slur. He doesn’t like American Christians and he does not care if Islamic fundamentalist commit genocide on them.

Sep 08, 2013 7:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
mjsehard wrote:
With no ,”Boots on the Ground” how do we plan on protecting the Christians. Easy answer, Obama plans on letting the Islamist have them. Those Christians should know better than to ,”Cling” to their religion. They are going to die horrible deaths and Obama will watch and do nothing. Pleas pray for them!!!

Sep 08, 2013 8:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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