(The following is an update of the original Spero article. See Editor's note)
"Peace in Syria could be saved if everyone told the truth. After a year of conflict, the reality on the ground is far from the picture that imposes disinformation in Western media". So said Melkite Catholic Archimandrite Fr. Philip Tournyol Clos, who is also a priest of the Latin rite of Catholic Church, who recently traveled to Syria and visited several cities including Damascus, Aleppo and Homs. The Melkite Christian community is among the oldest in the world, and dates to apostolic times.
Homs, called the "martyred city", the archimandrite said that "opposition forces have occupied two areas, Diwan Al Bustan and Hamidieh, where there are all the churches and bishoprics." Archimandrite Clos told the FIDES news service, "The picture for us is utter desolation: the church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything. The area of Hamidieh is still shelter to armed groups independent of each other, heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All Christians (138,000) have fled to Damascus and Lebanon, while others took refuge in the surrounding countryside. A priest was killed and another was wounded by three bullets. Still a couple live there, but the five bishops have had to take refuge in Damascus and Lebanon."
Continuing, Archimandrite Clos said "In the capital, car bombs and assassinations on behalf of Islamist suicide bombers, drawn by the desire of heaven, that cradle the dream of the end of the Alawite regime are feared. Currently the country, through the bloody work of adventurers who are not Syrian is trying to be destabilized. The former French ambassador, Eric Chevallier, reported this information, which was always rejected, while many details remain to be forged to keep the war against Syria."
In Damascus in recent weeks, there were attacks that ended with a death toll of 130 (including 34 Christians), 400 injured and many houses damaged. "The consternation was general, indescribable pain," notes the archimandrite, recalling that "the Syrians are simple and playful people."
Concerning their lives under the Assad regime, the bishop said "Christians live in peace, sharing the sufferings of all, but they are ready to admit that they have never felt so free in the past and to remember the full recognition of their rights, given to them by this government." Archimandrite Clos says the key to bringing together Syrian Christian and Muslim leaders, is to note that "The enemies of Syria have enlisted some of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to destroy the brotherly relations that traditionally existed between Muslims and Christians: Yet, to date, they are not able to: they have provoked a contrary reaction and the two communities are more united than before."
Syrian soldiers continue to face foreign fighters, mercenary Libyans, Lebanese militants from the Gulf, Afghans, as well as Turks. "The Sunni Salafist militants - says the bishop, "continue to commit crimes against civilians, or to recruit fighters with force. The fanatical Sunni extremists are fighting a holy war proudly, especially against the Alawites. When terrorists seek to control the religious identity of a suspect, they ask him to cite the genealogies dating back to Moses. And they ask to recite a prayer that the Alawites removed. The Alawites have no chance to get out alive."
(Ed. note: Following consultation with the FIDES news service concerning the identity of Archimandrite Fr Philipp Tournyol Clos, FIDES confirmed that it was in error in referring to him as a bishop of the Catholic Church. He is an archimandrite, or abbot, of the Melkite Catholic rite. This version of Spero article rectifies its report, which was based on information provided by FIDES. Spero regrets the error.)