World churches head shocked at Syria attacks on religious groups

(Photo: Reuters / Omar Ibrahim)Christian clerics hold candles during a candle-lit vigil at the Balamand Monastery in Koura, near the north Lebanese city of Tripoli, to call for the release of bishops kidnapped in northern Syria two months ago, June 22, 2013. Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi led the candle-lit vigil on Saturday for Greek Orthodox archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, appealing to their kidnappers to free them and urging Syrian security forces to do more to win their release.

The head of the World Council of Churches has expressed shock and deep concern over recent acts of violence in which members of the religious community are targeted in Syria, and singled out the recent brutal murder of a priest there.

WCC general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, was reacting in a statement Friday to the killing of Father Franҫois Mourad, a Syrian Franciscan monk, and the assault of the Franciscan monastery of St Anthony of Padua in Ghassanieh, a predominantly Christian village.

The village in the district of Jisr al-Shughur in the province of Idlib, is near the border with Turkey.

Father François Mourad was apparently alone in the monastery when it was completely pillaged on June 25, Vatican Radio reported as attacks against religious groups, particularly Christians have soared recently.

Tveit said, "Sadly and alarmingly, it is becoming apparent that foreign radical and terrorist elements are making use of the conflict in Syria and are deliberately targeting Christians, not sparing clergy and religious institutions and shrines.

"Their attacks are an attempt to sow interreligious tension," Tveit said in his strongest statement against sectarian violence in Syria to date.

He noted that many Syrian Muslim leaders, too, have displayed "their horror at brutal actions which seem deliberately intended to create hostility between Christians and Muslims."

The WCC head noted how in March 2011, the beginning of the peaceful uprising in Syria, that reclaiming freedom, dignity and equal citizenship, seemed to be a sign of hope for Syria and the region.

"We are now looking at a completely different and tragic picture."

Tveit noted that Christians from the village of Al-Ghassaniyah, as well as Father François himself, had wanted to stay peacefully in their part of Syria, where they have lived for centuries, alongside local Muslim communities.

The head of the WCC, which groups more than 500 million mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, said the council had e have been assured by a number of Syrian Muslim leaders, with whom it is in regular contact and dialogue, that they were horrified at the brutal actions which seem deliberately intended to create hostility between Christians and Muslims in Syria and the wider Middle East.

"We strongly encourage and invite them to condemn all those who seek to misuse Islam as a justification for aggression against neighbors, and especially against civilians."

Full statement of WCC Secretary General Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit

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