Greetings from the wounded city of Aleppo -2

Three Wishes Addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in the occasion of his historical visit to Lebanon and the issuing of the Post-Synodical Apostolic Exhortation

By Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim

Metropolitan of Aleppo

Aleppo, Friday 14 September 2012

Your Holiness
Your timely historical visit to Lebanon is welcomed by all citizens, Christians and Muslims of Lebanon, Syria and the wider Middle East

The most important station of this visit is the issuance of the apostolic exhortation. Whose inception we saw two year ago at the special Synod for the Middle East in the Vatican
Christians in the Middle East at this juncture are eager for the success of the multidimensional facets of the apostolic visit: spiritual, religious and social

Aspiring that in the current state of fatigue, your presence in our midst will inject enthusiasm, assurance and your special message will envelope the good news of a bright future for the entire region
Your Holiness, here are my three wishes and concerns


For over a year, since mid March 2011 Syrians have been enduring an unprecedented and unfamiliar state of violence, following the initially peaceful popular uprising. The violence swiftly spread to rural and urban areas in different parts of the country, with a human toll of tens of thousands of victims and martyrs. Simultaneously, this created waves of exodus of hundred thousands of internally displaced and external migrations
We have suffered terrible human and economic losses in major cities of entire residential quarters, markets and commercial zones, vital public amenities and tens of thousand of missing people. No citizen is currently immune from the swiping swords of violence in major cities, like Dara’a, Homs, Idle, Damascus, and now Aleppo, which overnight became battlefields

Christians and Muslims in different villages, towns and cities faced forced displacement form their peaceful co-existence in their traditional living quarters to the destitution of refugee camps erected in Syria or on the borders of neighbouring countries

Aleppo, among other Syrian cities previously reflected a peaceful situation and an exemplary co-existence of a Christian stronghold in a Muslim milieu. Never before in its contemporary history, has the city of Aleppo witnessed such a painful and threateningly difficult time, like what we have been experiencing over the last few weeks

In Aleppo, Christians were kidnapped, viciously tortured, with hefty ransoms claimed beyond the economic capability of Syrian citizens and their extended families, were demanded for their release

Churches, mosques and other religious centers and institutions were targeted and sacrilege in Homs, Aleppo and other localities in Syria

What is more dangerously unsettling is the online circulation of threatening and intimidating statements and communiqu├ęs, that were initially, directed generally towards all Christians in the city of Aleppo and the second directed specifically towards the Armenian community

Lately this threat was translated in a fatal ambush of a group of Armenians returning from Armenia on their way back to Aleppo from the airport

All these incidences created a state of deep depression and anxiety for all Christians in Syria regardless of their denominations

Such absence of law and order will reflect badly on the well being of the entire community. The only measure of self protection and security available for the terrified and traumatized ordinary citizens is to leave their homes at the earliest possible opportunity and seek a refuge, wherever possible. They are mostly ending up in Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey

What aggravated and undermined the status of our presence and witness and encouraged Christians to embrace the idea of immigration. Is the fact that some Armenian families were granted Armenian passports in preparation for evacuation the prosperous Armenian community in Aleppo. Other people are using green cards and visa to different part of the world to immigrate. Consequently, we are facing a steady mass exodus


Until the last few months, immigration was not a priority let alone the only solution for the co-existence of Syrian Christian communities. Alas, as the situations intensified, violence escalated and the failure of different calls and endeavours for a cease fire and the restoration to the negotiating table

Consequently, now, a great many people are nursing the idea of immigration regardless of the destination. Sadly, they are desperately clutching on to rumours of possible immigration opportunities to Sweden, Holland, Canada or America. Accordingly, waves of families are leaving Syria to Lebanon in anticipation of finding an immigration avenue via the United Nations or any other humanitarian organisations

The entire situation in Syria and the immigration scenario is a mirror image of what happened to Christians from Iraq post 2003, many of whom are still refuges in Syria awaiting indefinitely for their ambiguous destiny. The mere thought of an action replay of what happen to Christians in Iraq is enough to send a chill down the spine of every Christian and Church leader in Syria

Heaven forbid, if the Iraqi predicament will be repeated in Syria. Its Christians will defiantly be diasporaised. This will reflect badly on the social fabric and the delicate balance of the demographic tapestry and debase the rich Syrian mosaic which has been the treasured Syrian identity for centuries

We urge world Churches and their leaders and world governments and their decision makers to endeavour to cure the root cause of this imposed violence which has accelerated the enforced migration of peaceful citizens of Syria. We wish they can return to their peaceful life and co-existence and enjoy again being productive citizen among the pluralism of Syria

Thirdly and finally

Our expectations are that the Apostolic Exhortation will embrace the concerns and what unites all churches in the region, such as

Unifying the date of Easter. Establishing an anniversary for the Christian Martyrs. Activating Christian unity. Empowering and supporting Christian-Christian dialogue and Christian-Muslim dialogue in the region

Given the utmost importance to propagate the message of love and co-operation between them, emphasis on the importance of the Christian presence, the sustainability of Christians in the Middle East is an Islamic moral responsibility. It is pertinent for fellow Muslims to realize that citizenship is the only way which guarantees the equal rights of every one under the ceiling of Homeland. Implementing and adhering to the concept of citizenship is the duty of the government and legislative authority

It is not enough for Churches and its institution to condemn and denounce immigration. They should be instrumental in stemming migration, and formulating polices to empower and enable Christians to lead peaceful and dignified lives, by establishing and enhancing educational, cultural, medical and media institutions, housing projects for the youth to enable them to establish their new families and consolidate their presence and witness in their society

We call on Arabic and Islamic Governments to reconsider their education syllabuses and purge them of any signs or intimation which may encourages a culture of sectarianism, discrimination and violence against fellow citizens which undermine the role of Christians or any other groups in society, highlighting the fact that Christians are not new comers to the region. They are the indigenous people of the land before the advent of Islam, who have lived and practised Christianity in the region for two Millennia

It is not only useful but also important to address governments to put an end to the repression, arbitrary arrest, release and rehabilitate prisoners, establish a welfare systems to enable families of martyrs and forced immigrants to re-gather their shattered lives, give more freedom for the media, and implement the needed and overdue reforms, adopt democracy as a path to achieve equality and social justice

Also, to place the establishment of security, stabilities and peace in all Middle Eastern countries

Finally, I call to all belligerents factions to join the negotiating table and develop a code of conduct and honourable accord to establish just peace that re-secures life and tranquillity to all citizens

I wish Your apostolic visit all success and a blessing for the region
Mar Gregorios Yohanna Abraham
Metropolitan of Aleppo

Aleppo Suryoye

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