Damascus/Königstein im Taunus 10 Oct. 2016 – Over the last few days, more than one million Syrian children in over 2,000 schools across the country have signed an appeal for peace, written letters to political decision makers and made drawings (see ACN News from 6 Oct. 2016). As “Ambassadors of the Children”, Patriarch Gregorios III, the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, as well as Metropolitan George Abou Zakhem of Homs, who will represent the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and Bishop Selvanos Boutros Al Nemeh of Homs of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate will travel together to Brussels and Geneva from 10 to 13 October to present the children’s letters and drawings to high-ranking representatives of the European Union and United Nations. Among others, the church representatives will meet with the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. In Geneva, they will give the children’s messages to the High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr Filippo Grandi, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Al-Huzain.
This event, which arose from an initiative of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is a concrete reaction and answer to the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. During a meeting in Havana in February of this year, they had confirmed their desire and intention to have Catholic and Orthodox Christians speak out more in a united voice for peace in Syria and for persecuted Christians. The dramatic situation in the Middle East was one of the most important reasons for this historic meeting.
Aid to the Church in Need used this call for action as an opportunity to initiate specific joint campaigns with the churches in Syria. Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “The more we Christians are united in our defence of peace and in our support, in particular of children in need, the stronger is our voice and the more effective our efforts.”
A first definite step was taken when Aid to the Church in Need organised a trip for a Catholic Orthodox delegation in April of this year, which met with representatives of various Christian denominations in Lebanon and Syria to explore possibilities for collaboration. The first fruits of this trip was the “International Children’s Day” on 1 June that, on the initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, was observed as a children’s prayer day for peace. On this occasion, a joint message was released by Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs based in Syria. The appeal for peace sent by Syrian children to EU and UN representatives and the joint campaigns of the Christian denominations are further steps towards intensifying the unanimous efforts of Catholic and Orthodox Christians for peace in Syria.