Russian Patriarch wants Geneva 2 to focus on religious freedom

(Photo: REUTERS / Arnd Wiegmann)U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prior to peace talks in Montreux January 22, 2014. International peace talks to address Syria's almost three-year-old civil war opened in Montreux near Geneva on Wednesday with a speech by Ban.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says security and religious freedom of Christians in the Middle East must be ensured along with the security and religious freedom of the other citizens in Syrian society.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia sent a message Wednesday to the participants in the Geneva 2 international conference that is seeking a peace plan to end the Syrian civil war.

The conference took place Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland, a town on Lake Geneva.

"Security and religious freedom of Christians, who have lived in the Middle East for over two thousand years and who are an integral part of the Syrian society, must be ensured along with the security and religious freedom of all other citizens," said Kirill.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the world's biggest Christian Orthodox tradition, urged the leaders of 31 nations who have converged on the Swiss lakeside town to "exert every possible effort to end the hostilities immediately and unconditionally so that dialogue could begin."

The first day of the talks were tense and rancorous Wednesday with a verbal standoff between Syria's foreign minister and secretary general of the United Nations as different sides laid out their positions.

The talks move to Geneva on Friday for negotiation that will focus on trying to wind down the bitter Syrian hostilities and prising open emergency aid corridors to get aid to besieged civilians.

Kirill urged the world community to undertake "new large-scale actions in order to render urgent humanitarian aid to the victims of the armed conflict."

Around 130,000 people are believed to have been killed in the three year conflict and The U.N. estimates that 6.5 million people are internally displaced and a total of 9.3 million need humanitarian assistance, nearly half of whom are children.

By 30 November 2013, nearly 2.2 million refugees had been registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.


While Christianity was put down in the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church has risen as a strong force in the new Russia and is seen as having a close relationship with President Vladimir Putin, a former office in the USSR's KGB secret service.

Russia is also vieved a strong suporter of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

In New York, on Tuesday the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) joined other Christian bodies in calling upon the participants of Geneva 2 to pursue just peace in Syria.

The WEA fully endorses the statement "an urgent call to action for a just peace in Syria" that was prepared by Christian leaders from Syria, the Middle East Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the Holy See."

Kirill said, "As the first and foremost step towards peace and stability, the hostages must be released and the desecration of religious shrines and objects of historical and cultural heritage must be stopped.

"So far, nothing has been known about the fate of two Christian hierarchs – Metropolitans Paul and Youhanna Ibrahim – who were abducted near Aleppo in April 2013.

"The mother superior and sisters of the Convent of St Thecla in Maalula are still held captive. Their immediate release will be visible evidence that the opposition is ready to work in the search for peace and accord in the Syrian land."

The Russian Orthodox Church along with the Roman Catholic Church and other major churches was among those that joined a meeting of some 30 church leaders from Syria and around the world gathered at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva to issue a peace message for the talks.

"Remember that it is easy to ruin peace, but it takes decades to heal the wounds of war.

"And it is impossible to bring people back to life. Any step towards reconciliation and re-establishment of order and wellbeing of people will be blessed by God."

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News