New York City, N.Y., Oct 22, 2013 / 12:01 am (CNA).- While calling for dialogue between Syria’s Assad regime and moderates among the opposition, a Maronite Catholic bishop has stressed the necessity of a continued Christian presence in the Middle East.
“We need the solidarity of people and governments in the West to ensure the ongoing presence of Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East,” Bishop Elias Sleman of the Maronite Eparchy of Latakia told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need Oct. 17.
Bishop Sleman is visiting the U.S. to raise support for his people as well as internally displaced Syrians. He hopes to purchase livestock and agricultural equipment and gain funding to establish a residence for women attending school in Latakia.
He said that to establish peace in Syria, “great effort must be made to establish a dialogue between the regime and moderate elements of the opposition,” suggesting that foreign nations “put real pressure” on Syrian groups to negotiate.
Bishop Sleman said that “the big challenge is religious fanaticism.” He added that it is important that Christians remain in Syria and the Middle East because “the environment of Islam benefits from the engagement of the Christian faith, which ensures, of course, also our own openness with regard to the Muslim world.”
Religious fanaticism, he said, is a “breach” of “fundamental respect for God and man,” adding, “that is the message of the Christian witness” in Muslim-majority nations.
“We have lived together in Syria for 1,400 years,” Bishop Sleman reflected. “I cannot and will not speak separately of Christians and Muslims … why can we not manage to live together any more?”
Bishop Sleman spoke in favor of religious pluralism, saying that “a country with a single religion becomes extremist, provoking war.” He spoke of Saudi Arabia as a place where “Muslims have not been forced to find ways to live together with Christians, have not been pushed to arrive at an openness.”
“But in Syria, Lebanon, in Jordan, and so forth, we have lived together for the longest time. In those countries it is hard to imagine Muslims living without Christians or vice versa.”
The bishop noted that “our religion is one of mission – it is not a religion that closes in on itself.”
“We cannot accept the logic of uniformity; we stand for openness; that is the genius of Christianity.”
Bishop Sleman said that Syrian Christians need financial support from their Western (Read More)