What was once a Syrian conflict with a regional dimension has become a regional conflict with a focus on Syria. Due to the many regional and international interests involved, the Syrian people have lost control over the process of events. Faced with such a complex reality, the temptation is strong to get sucked into the dynamic of division and polarisation and calls for military solutions.
The Jesuit Refugee Service has been working since 2008 in Syria and has consistently adhered to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality in reaching out to the many displaced victims of the conflict, regardless of their religious affiliation or political opinions.
In Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, Syrian Jesuits together with hundreds of lay JRS colleagues have provided food and other provisions to more than 200,000 people. JRS also offers education services, food, and material assistance to nearly 9,000 children severely traumatised by the war. JRS works closely with and through the structures of the various Christian churches and religious congregations.
The work of the Syrian branch of Caritas, the many churches and JRS is truly a testimony to Christian charity. Even during this difficult time, this common witness of love serves as an impetus for practical inter-religious dialogue between Christians, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. In fact, more than half of the JRS staff are Muslims. Our humanitarian action and the work of charity unites us. We work together because we are moved by compassion for the suffering of people.
As Christians and Muslims, we reach out together in mercy and compassion to the victims of this war because we believe in a compassionate and merciful God. In view of the absurdity of the conflict and its diabolic spiral of violence, we continue to hold fast to faith in a God who has called us to respond as well in mercy and compassion to the victims of the human tragedy in Syria. The compassion of God is expressed in our actions and in the way we contemplate the current reality of violence in Syria.
Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, the founder of JRS, reminded us in his final address in August 1981 in Bangkok of the importance of prayer when he said: 'I will say one more thing, and please don't forget it. Pray. Pray much. Problems such as these are not solved by human efforts'.
Our experience in the Syrian conflict has led us to understand more clearly that, in addition to our work, a lot of merciful and compassionate prayer is needed. Wherever such overwhelming negative energy exists, the positive energy of many people is needed. Instead of being consumed by violence, mercy and compassion for the victims, and even for the perpetrators, should be at the centre of our prayers.
God's mercy embraces all, victims and perpetrators alike. In our prayer we share in God's mercy and compassion which is stronger than hatred. Jesus Christ himself embraced perpetrators through his cross and suffering with mercy and forgiving love. God hears the cry of victims and even reaches into the depth of the nihilism of perpetrators. God's mercy and compassion creates a space free of hatred for the victims, and a space where perpetrators can come to a deeper understanding of their own humanity, turning away from the evil of violence.
Compassionate prayer combined with action will pave the way for tentative steps towards de-escalating conflict and opening dialogue that leads to peace and reconciliation. Together in prayer with the Pope, the Christian community and the faithful of other religions, we pray that a space of compassion and conversion will open within our hearts, a space that can lead us to peaceful solutions.
In prayer we discover that silent space where we can listen to the unheard voices of the many victims and the cry of the poor: children, women and men; young and old; Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and people of good will. We hear the cry of all who long to live again in peace, of all who refuse to take up arms. Blessed are the peacemakers!
As Pope Francis has urged us, "let us raise a strong cry for peace across the globe".
Peter Balleis SJ
6 September 2013
6 September 2013