Jesuit Expelled From Syria Calls for Regime Change
19 Jul 2012 by Cindy Wooden
ROME (CNS) — Italian Jesuit Father Paolo
DallOglio was expelled from Syria in mid-June after he intensified his public calls for democratic change in the country.
The blood on the ground must be respected and
religious leaders must speak out, Father DallOglio told Catholic News Service in Rome July 18.
The Jesuit had been based in Syria for 30 years,
and since 1982 had been restoring an ancient monastery in
the desert and forming a religious community dedicated to
Christian-Muslim dialogue and harmony.
With the priest back in Italy and with Syria
embroiled in violence, the Mar Musa monastery continues
to operate normally — or as normal as possible in Syria today, he said.
Since he was kicked out of the country June 16,
fighting has spread to Damascus, the Syrian capital,
which was to be expected, he said. Whether it will be a momentary fever depends on how many weapons the opposition has. If they are able to get weapons, the revolt will speed up in the worst possible way, hardening positions on both sides and increasing the violence.
Father DallOglio said the government initially
asked the local bishop to send him home last November,
but public support put the move on hold. Then, in late
May, the rising violence made him feel he had no choice
but to speak out more loudly. He published an open letter
to Kofi Annan, the U.N. envoy to Syria, saying a regime
change in the country was necessary in order to restore
peace and bring democracy.
The letter, he said, was the immediate reason I
Syrian President Bashar Assad set himself up as
the protector of religious freedom in the country and
successfully convinced many religious leaders that
Christian-Muslim harmony was his doing when, in fact,
the country always had a cultural tradition of religious
moderation and tolerance, the Jesuit said.
Discussions with the regime were possible until
April 2011 when the situation turned violent, he said. Now with so many dead and injured, it makes it
impossible, but the regime still has a base of support, including among some Christian and Muslim leaders.
The Jesuit said Catholic and Orthodox bishops
were very active supporters of the government, but
started speaking less after the first six months of the
revolt when it was clear Assad was losing popular
support and his troops were seen as reacting with too
much deadly force.
The bishops initial position was understandable,
They are very much afraid of a Syrian repeat of what happened in Iraq, where the end of a dictatorship
launched power struggles and many Christian
communities were caught in the middle.
When people fear so much that the Iraqi process
will happen again, that ensures it will happen because it
gives the fanatics power, Father DallOglio said.
Up until now, he said, Syria has not had a problem
with Christian-Muslim conflict because of the culture and deep religious convictions of the people. It is the result of a deep faith. Believing Christians and believing Muslims live well together.
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Christian-Muslim relations Arab Spring Syrian Catholic