On Wednesday, 3 April 2019, the Committee of Representatives of Orthodox Churches to the European Union (CROCEU) in cooperation with the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), along with the Working Group on Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue of the European People’s Party (EPP), held a first joint Conference in the European Parliament in Brussels.
The topic of this Conference was “The Next Day in Syria: A path towards the resilience of Syrian people”. The conference was attended by Members of the European Parliament and other officials, academics, diplomats and representatives of religious organizations in Brussels.
Welcoming and introductory statements were given by the first-Vice President of the European Parliament and responsible for the implementation of Art.17 Mrs. Mairead McGuinnes, who underlined the fact that Christians are the most persecuted religious group globally and pointed out that the Syrian people have endured remarkably their hardships so far thanks to their “rock-solid faith”; Mr. György Hölvényi, MEP and Co-Chairman of the Working Group on Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue of the EPP, after having underlined the twenty year long dialogue which begun with the Orthodox Church, reaffirmed the EPP’s commitment to bringing the problem of Syria into the spotlight; and His Eminence Metropolitan Athanasios of Achaia, on behalf of the three Christian organizations namely CROCEU, COMECE and CEC, underlined that Syria is a problem that concerns all of us and no one can feel immune to trouble when suffering gets out of control. He cited St Paul’s words that united we commend ourselves in every way through all sorts of adversities by genuine love.
During the first session which was Moderated by Mrs. Marijana Petir MEP, the topic of “Humanitarian Aid for All”, was presented and interventions were made by the Chancellor of the Metropolis of Aleppo Archimandrite Fr. Moses Alkhassi, on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Mgr. John Darwish, Catholic Archbishop of Zahle and Forzol in Lebanon, and Mr. Jean- Louis De Brouwer, Director for Europe, Eastern Neighbourhood and Middle East in the European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection.
Archimandrite Moses Alkhassi who represented CROCEU focused on the current situation of all Syrian people, and the Orthodox in particular, sharing the immense difficulties and repercussions of the on-going war that they are facing. He talked about the persecution of Christians and Muslims in Syria who have suffered murder, exile, abductions, destruction and looting of their churches, monasteries and properties.
He outlined the huge problems in their path to resilience, such as immense unemployment and inflation, lack of housing and education, and even the inability to perform a proper burial of their deceased. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch helps everyone, even those who are left behind amidst the ruined cities. The local Church is a witness to the Lord for every afflicted Syrian, offering relief kits, medical help, education, cash for work programs and more.
In the second session which was moderated by Mr. Aloja Peterle MEP, entitled “Reconstruction and Resilience for Syria”, the speakers were Fr. Andrzej Halemba, Head of “Aid to the Church in Need”, Mrs. Elsy Wakil, on behalf of the World Student Christian Federation, and Mrs. Mihaela Matei, Political Officer of the EEAS (European External Action Service―Syria Desk) who dealt with the day after and the tragic reality of Syria nowadays.
Mr. Jan Olbrycht, MEP and Co-Chairman of the Working Group on Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue of the EPP, in his concluding remarks, emphasized the need for the European Institutions to listen more attentively to social actors (like Churches) and the fact that conferences of this kind offer a great chance for these social actors to meet with each other and with the European Institutions.