(Vatican Insider) - The Archbishop of Israel’s Greek Melkite Catholic Church, told Vatican Insider the situation in Syria is tragic and asked why the West is doing nothing to help.
"Arab Spring is not the right term. This was no spring. It was a monumental bloodbath. So many died, but the biggest losers are the Christians…” Elias Chacour, the Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church is the elder of one of the largest communities of Arab Catholics in Israel. The Church has 80 thousand faithful, 32 parishes and 28 priests. The archbishop met Vatican Insider and other Italian media in his residence in the Israeli city of Haifa, a shining example of peaceful co-existence between religions. During his meeting with journalists, he expressed his concerns about the fate of Christians who have been forced to flee Syria, about the dialogue process with the Orthodox Church and about Pope Francis.
“I do not know why so many lost their lives in the Arab “Spring” – which was not a spring at all since it produced no fruits and new life was nowhere to be seen. The Chaldean bishop in the U.S., Ibrahim Ibrahim told me that Detroit’s 4000 Chaldean Christians have now become 130 thousand because many fled the countries where they had previously been living. I ask myself why the West is doing nothing to stop what is going on in Syria. 160 little Christian villages have been completely abandoned. Many are fleeing to Lebanon but we do not know how many. I saw our bishop of Damascus cry like a baby: every single Christian in Syria needs our help; they need every bit of bread and every glass of water they can get…”
Archbishop Chacour said all that has happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria over the past few years has been “a turning point in Islamic history. Before, leaders would engage in power struggle without involving the public. We were not happy with the totalitarian regimes but we are not happy today either. This is partly because of the risk of Islamic Sharia law coming into force, which would be abominable. We don’t know what will happen further on down the line,” the archbishop said.
The head of the Greek Melkite Church then went on to talk about the domestic situation: “We are Israeli citizens; we have not yet resolved all our problems but we are soldiering on: we must resist any assimilation and work towards integration. Unlike other Christian communities we do not have any foreign protectors.” Chacour saw the agreement over the Easter Sunday date as a big step forward in achieving Christian unity in Israel. We have decided to go by the Julian calendar. This has reduced our differences. The Latin Patriarchate and the Anglicans switched to this calendar too… The streets of Haifa have been blocked off to traffic for three days now. It was such a joy to join our Orthodox brothers and sisters for the Palm Sunday procession. The mayor of Haifa saw this and said: “If you do this every week, I’m behind you.”
The archbishop also answered a question about Pope Francis’ decision to emphasise his Bishop of Rome role. The Orthodox looked very favourably upon this, as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, confirmed in an interview. “It was an act of humility; By focusing on his role as Bishop of Rome, Francis showed himself to be a hero of humility. Other Popes have often neglected to do this and have ended up seeing themselves as bishops of the world.”
But Elias Chacour was keen to stress that “Rome should not be forgotten. But more importantly, we must not forget that it was here that it all started, not in Rome. When my priests go on pilgrimages to Lourdes and Medjugorje, I always say to them: “Tell Mary it’s time she comes home.” People tend to forget Mary is from Nazareth and that Jesus was the man who lived in Nazareth; he’s my fellow countryman.”
The Melkite archbishop also talked about the Latin Rite Catholics. “There are fewer of them compared to us. The community of Arab Catholics under the Latin Rite is composed of 10 thousand people but they have a Patriarch, four bishops, hundreds of priests and numerous women religious: lucky them! We need to do more in terms of sharing not just communion. It is not just our problems we should share. You will know that every year we hold a Good Friday collection for the Holy Land’s Christians. I can assure you that although I am Catholic, I see nothing of these offerings.” The collection Chacour was referring to, is traditionally split between the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and the Latin Patriarchate.