With the Geneva 2 talks on Syria scheduled for 22 January, some 30 church leaders from Syria and around the world gathered a week ahead of time at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, and called for substantial action be taken at the talks to end the armed conflict.
In a message to be delivered to Geneva 2 by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria, the group which is convinced there is no military solution, said in the message that there needed to be “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria”, thus ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighboring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance” and that “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria” should be developed.
“There is no time to waste; enough people have died or had to leave their homes,” Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said following the meeting. “As churches we speak with one voice.”
The church leaders and representatives came from the Middle East, the Vatican, Russia, other European nations and the United States and included representatives from Syrian churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans.
The meeting, called the Ecumenical Consultation on Syria and sponsored by the WCC, was held 15 to17 January. It is a follow up to a similar meeting in September 2013 sponsored by the WCC which also included Brahimi and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
“We are representing the silent majority, the voice of the voiceless,” said Catholicos Aram I, head of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to Brahimi who consulted with the group on Thursday afternoon, 15 January.
“Your mission is not an easy one,” His Holiness continued. “It is a critical, crucial mission. You can be sure that you have our full support, the full support of all churches, the full support of the global Christian community.”
The meeting was accompanied by an ecumenical prayer held on the evening of 16 January, also joined by the members of the international community to express their solidarity with the people of Syria, expressing hopes for peace in the country.
The service drew attention to the great antiquity of the Christian presence in Syria, as well as the commitment of Syria’s Christians, inspired by the New Testament to transform violence and oppression into healing and reconciliation.
Church leaders and representatives from Syria, the Middle East Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches and the Holy See issued the following statement for Geneva 2 talks on Syria:
“Christians have maintained a continuous presence in the land of Syria since the dawn of Christianity. Today, as churches and church-related humanitarian agencies, we are present with the people of Syria on a daily basis both inside the country and amongst refugees. In this communication, we seek to raise their voice.
Our concern is for all people affected by the indiscriminate violence and humanitarian calamity in Syria. Innocent children, women and men are being killed, wounded, traumatized and driven from their homes in uncounted numbers. We hear their cries, knowing that when “one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
There will be no military solution to the crisis in the country. Endeavouring to be faithful to God’s love of all human beings, and within the context of international humanitarian law, we submit these calls for action and guidelines for building peace.
We call upon you, as participants in the Geneva II conference, to:
1. pursue an immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria. We call for all parties to the conflict to release detained and kidnapped persons. We urge the UN Security Council to implement measures ending the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Syria.
2. ensure that all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance. Where such large populations are at serious risk, full humanitarian access is essential in compliance with international law and the Responsibility to Protect.
3. develop a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria. All sectors of society (including government, opposition and civil society) need to be included in a Syrian solution for the Syrian people. We recognize the urgent need to integrate women and young people fully in these processes.
Geneva II must be transformed into a peace-building process, responding to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian people. We offer these guidelines:
· Any peace-building process must be Syrian-led. It should be transparent and credible so Syrians may determine their country’s future. Such a process requires the support of the Arab League, the United Nations and the constructive engagement of all parties involved in the current crisis.
· All efforts must be made to secure the peace, territorial integrity and independence of Syria.
· The multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional nature and tradition of Syrian society must be preserved. The vibrant mosaic of Syrian society entails equal rights for all of its citizens. The human rights, dignity and religious freedom for all must be promoted and protected in accordance with international norms.
As Christians we speak with one voice in calling for a just peace in Syria. To achieve this peace, we are committed to working hand-in-hand with Muslim sisters and brothers, with whom we share a common history along with spiritual and social values. We seek to work for national reconciliation and healing through building trust.”