Church leaders in Syria are calling for intercessory prayer as the Geneva II Conference begins on Jan. 22 in Switzerland. Representatives from both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Western-backed political opposition are scheduled to meet for the first time in three years. Their goal is to find a peaceful way to end the conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 130,000 people and left millions more displaced.
Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the leader of the Greek Catholic Church, has called all Christians and Syrian citizens to “pray for true reconciliation in Geneva II” and has stated that "the key to the success of Geneva II is faith-based, human, cordial, national, and truly Syrian reconciliation."
In June, 2012, officials from the United States, Russia, and other major powers met in Geneva and agreed on what is known as the Geneva Communiqué, which is meant to serve as a road map for the “transitional government” in Syria. However, numerous difficulties continue to arise as there are conflicts as to who truly represents the Syrians opposed to the current government as well as which countries should be invited. U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon withdrew an invitation to Iran to attend the Jan. 22 meeting after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott the conference if Iran, who backs Assad’s government, attends.
The World Council of Churches issued a statement on Jan. 17 which was compiled by the participants of a two-day meeting, including Syrian church leaders, which urged all delegates to the Geneva II peace conference to pursue an immediate end to all armed conflict. Additionally, they called for all parties to release kidnapped persons, and finally, they urged the UN Security Council to implement measures to end the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Syria.
Kidnapping is a common tactic being employed by a variety of radical groups opposed to the Syrian government, including factions of radical Muslims. In some cases, the groups have not identified themselves. In others, demands have been made of the release of detained Syrians being held by the government. Amongst those missing and detained are three priests, two bishops, and at least 12 nuns and three young orphans under their care from Ma’aloula (some sources say 13 nuns). Fr. Michel and Fr. Maher have been missing since Feb. 9, 2013. Fr. Paolo has been missing since early August, 2013. The Metropolitan bishops, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulous Yazigi have been held since April 22, 2013. The nuns have been held since December, 2013.
Religiously motivated persecution of Christians has also occurred during the Syrian conflict. On Jan. 8, two Christians were ambushed by militants who shot at their vehicle as they were travelling outside of Homs. Fadi was killed, and upon seeing the cross he was wearing, he was decapitated. Firas was left for dead, but he was able to escape with his life.
VOM is helping to equip and encourage Christians who continue to work in Syria despite the dangers. In addition to providing material assistance to those Christians who have been impacted by the war, VOM also works with church partners in Syria to distribute New Testaments, Bibles and study Bibles.
Please join Christians around the world in praying for Syria. VOM has received reports that an increased number of Muslims have come to know Christ in the midst of the conflict. Ask God to continue to embolden Christians, empowering them to be courageous witnesses during this time.
Sources: Middle East Concern, U.N.
“Ann Kay” is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.