Support Syrian Christians
18th October 2012
‘Religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms,’ Bishop Audo declared today in London at a meeting room in Parliament. He emphasised the statement made a month earlier by Pope Benedict XVI in Syria, that an ‘increase in religious fundamentalism denies long standing traditions of coexistence,’ and that the Church calls on all faiths to join in combating the anti-human rights trend in Syria and the Middle East.
Baroness Berridge, with the support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), hosted Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria. He spoke of the difficulties Christians face in his home country and in the Middle East and North Africa. He spoke emphatically about both the Catholic mission in the Middle East and his own experiences in contemporary Syria.
Bishop Audo’s account soon turned personal. The Bishop described difficulties in such standard tasks as getting to the airport and that driving more than one or two kilometres has become dangerous and impractical. He described bombs falling near churches and convents in Aleppo. He described the punishing poverty in his home-town and the regular thought of immigration.
As the number of refugees fleeing to Lebanon increases, especially amongst the more wealthy Christians, the Bishop was very concerned about the implications of mass immigration. He warned of an ominous future for Syria if it follows Iraq’s path, where many Christians immigrated to Syria to avoid sectarian violence and did not return. Syria has held one of the largest remaining populations of Christians in the region, and their influence is far reaching, even for Muslim populations.
Recognizing the history of good relations between Muslims and Christians, Bishop Audo pointed to the role Christians play in helping to define Muslims through their common religious heritage. He argued that ‘Christians are needed by Muslims to ensure their own identity’ as fellow tolerant monotheists, and that both faiths can mutually be ‘strengthened by common values we share.’
Bishop Audo concluded his speech by asking for the prayers, solidarity, and consideration from the audience.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria accompanied the Bishop on the mission of support and solidarity to the British Parliament. Both work closely with ACN in attempts to aid their respective diocese in lieu of the humanitarian precipice on which both their countries stand regarding Christianity’s future and religious freedom. Bishop Audo is also the head of Caritas in Syria, the Catholic charitable organization. Both men emphasised that theirs’ was not a political mission to gain power, but one of consolidation, solidarity, and charity for their diocese.[i]