With the Geneva 2 talks on Syria scheduled for 22 January, some 30 church leaders from Syria and around the world gathered a week ahead of time at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, and called for substantial action to be taken at the talks to end the armed conflict.
In a message to be delivered to Geneva 2 by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria, the group which is convinced there is no military solution, said in the message that there needed to be “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria”, ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighboring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance” and that “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria” should be developed.
“There is no time to waste; enough people have died or had to leave their homes,” the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC, said following the meeting.
“As churches we speak with one voice.”
The church leaders and representatives came from the Middle East, the Vatican, Russia, other European nations and the United States and included representatives from Syrian churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans.
The meeting, called the Ecumenical Consultation on Syria and sponsored by the WCC, was held 15 to17 January. It is a follow up to a similar meeting in September 2013 sponsored by the WCC which also included Brahimi and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"We are representing the silent majority, the voice of the voiceless," said Catholicos Aram I, head of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to Brahimi who consulted with the group on Thursday afternoon, 15 January 2014.
"Your mission is not an easy one,” Aram continued. “It is a critical, crucial mission. You can be sure that you have our full support, the full support of all churches, the full support of the global Christian community.”
When asked what the church and others can do now about Syria, Brahimi said, churches can “mobilise international opinion, to condemn all that is bad in this situation and to support all that is good now.”
When describing the plans for the Geneva 2 talks, Brahimi said, "hopefully we will begin talking about peace and not war anymore."
“Our aspiration is that Syrians put an end to their war and start rebuilding their country,” he said.
Brahimi also recognised the ongoing work of the churches when distributing humanitarian aid in the region, saying, “we are grateful that the actual material aid that you are providing, you are providing it without asking whether it is for a man, woman, child, believers, unbelievers or Muslims.” Earlier in the meeting he thanked the group for their encouragement and prayers.
“The people of Syria crying for just peace deserve results from the upcoming Geneva 2 talks,” Tveit said. “Let us continue to work and pray for the people of Syria.”
The meeting was accompanied by an ecumenical prayer held on the evening of 16 January, also joined by the members of the international community to express their solidarity with the people of Syria, expressing hopes for peace in the country.
The service drew attention to the great antiquity of the Christian presence in Syria, as well as the commitment, written in to the pages of the New Testament, on the part of Syria’s Christians to transform violence and oppression into reconciliation.
* Message to Geneva 2 talks from the WCC Ecumenical Consultation on Syria: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19955
* More on the Syrian situation from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria