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A symposium on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was held at the Pontifical Urbanian University on September 13 and 14. “We can not dissociate the future of a country from that of the Christians” who live there, said Bishop Pascal Gollnisch, general director of L’Œuvre d’Orient, “The Work of the East,” a French Catholic association dedicated to helping Christians in the East.
I.Media for Aleteia spoke with the bishop.
What is the Vatican’s interest in organizing a symposium of this kind?
Most importantly, the officials of the Holy See can meet with organizations acting in the field. The West must not make Christians in the East the fifth column of the West or its protégés. This is what the Islamic State organization says: Christians in Iraq and Syria are accomplices of the West, which is our enemy. We must ensure that the interests of Eastern Christians include their full citizenship. We must fight for full citizenship for all, and not just for the mere respect of minorities. When using the term “minorities,” we think of numerical minorities, but the word minority also suggests that their case isn’t of great importance.
What is the position of the Holy See vis-à-vis the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq?
It must be understood that the Holy See is diverse. There is first of all diplomatic action, with the action of the apostolic nuncios, whose age-old diplomacy known for its discretion. Then, there is interreligious action: Iraq and Syria are Muslim-majority countries, and there is work being done on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. It’s another way of working. And lastly, there is humanitarian action. We cannot separate the future of a country from that of Christians in that country. The interest in maintaining Christians in a country also allows the country to develop. The situation of Christians, affirmed John Paul II, reveals the situation of the entire country. All this is coordinated, and the Sovereign Pontiff can give a global point of view. But in the concrete operation, each complements the other.
How does the Vatican stay up to date on the responses on the ground to the humanitarian crisis?
A complete survey has been carried out for several months by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human development. This has made it possible to have a better picture of the Church’s action in Syria and Iraq, and to know what the Catholic Church brings to these countries. None of us knew what others are doing, so this survey was necessary. Even within Caritas, the French “Secours Catholique” can help, but does not know what the Australian branch of Caritas is doing. This survey is the most comprehensive yet.
Can we envisage a solution to the Syrian conflict?
In this atrocious civil war, even if a prophetic personality gets up to dialogue, in his own camp he will be told: “What? You want to stop everything before the final victory? So all our brothers and our cousins died for nothing? You betray them.” This is irrational, and based on emotions. This is why civil wars are very difficult to stop. If two foreign countries are waging war, we can make sure that the governments negotiate with each other. But when the conflict is between and within families, it’s very difficult. What must be understood is that there are not good guys on one side and bad guys on the other.
I regret that sometimes Western diplomacy — ready to overwhelm Damascus with accusations of guilt for all the evils — is making proposals that are unsustainable: No one can drag Bashar al-Assad today to the International Criminal Court, for example. We are facing a very complex situation, but to reduce it to good guys in one camp and villains in the other is infantile, because the reality is infinitely more complex.