Latin Patriarch calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria

In Christmas message, Patriach also says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is blocking regional stability.

December 18, 2013 21:14
3 minute read.
Latin Patriarch Twal gives communion in Bethlehem

Latin Patriarch Twal gives communion in Bethlehem 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal emphasized the importance of ending the violence in Syria’s civil war in his Christmas message delivered Wednesday afternoon, but insisted that conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was still hindering development in the Middle East.

“At this time, we cannot forget the inhabitants of Syria, and among them the refugees in our neighboring countries, as well as all those around the world, who suffer in body and spirit,” said Twal, who is the head of the Catholic church in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Cyprus.

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He continued saying that “while the world’s attention has shifted from the situation in the Holy Land to the tragedy in Syria, it must be stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains crucial to the region and is a major obstacle in the development of our society and stability in the Middle East.”

The patriarch called for an immediate and “sustainable” cease-fire in Syria and called for “outside weapons” to be blocked from entering the country and said that political leaders should find “a mutually acceptable political solution that will end the senseless violence.”

He also noted the ongoing political instability in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, commenting that this situation “affects everyone, but especially our faithful who are tempted to emigrate,” in reference to Christian minorities in the Middle East and the increasing flight of Christians from the region.

Twal pointed to the resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the PA as a positive development, but said that “the continuous building of Israeli settlements” hampers such efforts.

During a question and answer session with the patriarch and other members of his clerical staff, Reverend David Neuhaus, a vicar of the Latin Patriarchate, said that the situation of African migrants and asylum- seekers in Israel, many of whom are Christian, should also not be forgotten.

“We need to be in solidarity with those who are the most fragile, and right now those Sundanese and asylum-seekers are among the most fragile in our diocese,” he said.

Speaking later to The Jerusalem Post, Neuhaus said that the Latin Patriarchate was working closely with the migrant workers and asylum-seekers to take care of their religious requirements and also to document their experiences in reaching Israel.

Neuhaus also noted that the church has “an ongoing presence” in south Tel Aviv, where many African migrants reside, and has rented premises which is used as a temporary church.

Speaking about the debate within Israeli society regarding African migrants and asylum- seekers, he said that he was concerned by “growing racism” surrounding the issue.

“The hope of the church is that if the Jewish people reflected on the Jewish people’s own heritage as a marginalized, fragile people there would be a more open heart to understanding the plight of these people, the terrible circumstances in which they’re trying to survive, and the terrible trauma which they’ve passed through,” said Neuhaus.

“There is a growing racism which I think Israel in particular and Jews in Israel in particular have to be very cautious of. They’ve been victims of such racism themselves,” he continued, and was critical of terminology such as “infiltrators.”

“Some of these ‘infiltrators’ are people who are fleeing for their lives, it wasn’t such a long time ago in the 1930s that Jews were fleeing Europe for their lives and being treated as infiltrators,” he said.

“This type of language creates realities of racism which we don’t want to see here,” said Neuhaus.

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