"“We stand by our Syrian people" Syrian bishops at their assemblyMonday, May 7th, 2012
“We stand by our Syrian people in search of a decent life, national unity and solidarity among all the different groups that constitute the social, religious and national reality."
So said the Syrian Bishops at the conclusion of their Assembly, which ended in recent days in Aleppo, and has gone on in spite of the conflict and violence.
Fides has reported that almost half (7out of 17) prelates were absent and unable to reach the Assembly for security reasons. There were no Bishops from Homs, the city where fighting continues in spite of a cease-fire. The Bishops from that city have taken refuge in small villages in the mountains and the roads are too dangerous to travel.
In a concluding statement the Bishops expressed concern about the violence and appealed for national unity. They emphasised, “the urgent need to pursue a common, effective reform process to be carried out on the field, in services and in the political, social and cultural sphere, coordinating the efforts of all the Syrians - government, political parties, constructive opposition, specialists - in the framework of national unity and active participation in national dialogue, essential to build a new multi-party and democratic Syria.”
The Bishops encouraged everyone to participate in the elections for the National Assembly on May 7, to express the will of the people. They stated that violence had, “passed all limits,” and expressed full solidarity with all the Syrians who are suffering.
In their statement, they emphasised that the Church, "calls for reconciliation and dialogue between the State and all elements of the country, to rebuild confidence, the openness to others and respect for different opinions at a political, religious and intellectual level."
The Bishops supported the UN mission of Kofi Annan, in particular in its humanitarian aspect for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the towns and the call for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes and compensation to the victims and to the restoration of the rule of law.
Through Caritas Syria and all the Catholic institutions, relief programs for material, pastoral, health and social needs of refugees have started.
Some reports suggest that the United Nations-backed cease-fire, although imperfect with several outbreaks of violence, is giving the peaceful activists an opportunity to come to the fore again. Opinion is divided on the parliamentary elections on May 7. For the first time in 40 years, Syria is holding elections for parliament, but many, especially the government opposition groups, say the elections are a “joke”' and a “sham” and plan to boycott them.
In February 2012, a referendum on constitutional reform made some changes. For instance, it abolished the dominance of the Ba'ath Party. Also, under the new constitution, at least half of the members of the Syrian assembly must be workers and farmers, and the parties they represent cannot be based on religion, region or profession.
In total, there are 250 seats and more than 7,000 candidates. President Assad is not one of these as his seat is safe and he is not running. The UN states that more than 9,000 people have died since violence began in the country more than a year ago.
by Ann Marie Foley (source Fides with additional reporting)