Jean-Clément Jeanbart, the Melkite Greek Archbishop of Aleppo in Syria, has decried what he calls a “plot” to empty the Middle East of Christians. ISIS has a special fear of Christians, he said, because theirs are “the only voices to reach the West.”
Jeanbart has been visiting Sicily this week by invitation of the Archbishop of Monreale, Michele Pennisi. Jeanbart met with journalists and priests of the diocese of Monreale and answered questions about the conditions of Syria.
Contrary to what many in the West believe, the so-called Arab Spring “has done enormous damage,” the Archbishop said, “destroying a country that was beginning to evolve, and moving slowly toward democracy.”
He said that the revolution got into the wrong hands. “Other geopolitical, economic and financial interests, along with religious fanaticism, came into play, helped by the least democratic countries with the aim of dominating the whole area, and it was over,” he said.
The Christian church was born in Syria, the Archbishop said, and “this is the main reason why we Christians—300,000 out of a population of 2 million—do not want under any circumstances to leave Syria.”
The Archbishop also expressed his own resolve to stand firm. “As pastor of this church, I will never leave this people,” he said. “I will die but I will not abandon my flock. I am convinced that the Lord will ask me an account of my commitment, my courage and my hope for this portion of his people that He entrusted to me.”
“I have to admit that there was a time, early in the war when I thought of leaving,” he said, “but the Lord stood by me, and now at 71 years of age, I feel at least 15 years younger, and I do not fear disappointment and discouragement. I know that the Lord takes care of me and my flock,” he added.
“Christians here suffer because they have lost their homes, their relatives and even their churches. What was the middle class no longer has enough to live on. Everything has been corrupted, especially the press, which no longer tells the truth,” but now engages in “a true act of disinformation,” he said.
Jeanbart credits Pope Francis with putting the situation of Christians in the Middle East on the world map. “It was the Pope Francis,” he said, “who reopened dialogue and revealed the subtle plot to empty the Middle East of Christians.”
“Christians are a sort of thorn in the side” of nations under ISIS, the Archbishop said. “Christians are the only ones who have some type of relationship with the West, and are able to uncover the great scam that underlies this war and the many interests that are being protected.”
Jeanbart also believes that Islamist fanatics are in the minority. “I have relationships with many important religious leaders and none of them believes in killing in God’s name,” he said. “It is the violence of a few that prevails over the will for peace of many,” he said.
The Archbishop also noted that the cold winter “has put a strain on the population,” and the “local church has undertaken humanitarian initiatives to support the population in their basic needs, such as fuel, food and education.”
“We started a church movement called ‘Building for staying,’” he said, set up to encourage Christians “not to leave the country.” He said it is “a movement that brings together Christians from every walk of life and aims to create professional schools linked to construction, because it will certainly be the economic sector that will leave first,” he said.
“The war has made us more united, compact and able to reconcile our differences so that we can be an element of true hope for the faithful who look to us as a reference point to restore hope and courage,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.