The visit aimed at strengthening the bonds of unity among WCC member churches and listening to the concerns of its constituency amidst all the difficult living conditions they are passing through. The delegation raised the needs and expectations of the population of Syria, as well as other concerns of the Middle East region, where other similar visits took place, at the WCC 11th Assembly, to be held 31 August-8 September 2022 in Karlsruhe, Germany.
The delegation started its visit in the city of Damascus, with a visit to His Beatitude Patriarch John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, in the Patriarchal residence, where discussions centered around the situation of the church and its mission and witness amidst the crisis that the region is passing through, especially in Lebanon and Syria, and the need to support Christians so they can stay in their homeland and be agents of transformation in their societies. Attendees also stressed the necessity of ongoing coordination with local churches in order to overcome the challenges that might have impacts on the Christian presence in the region.
In addition, His Beatitude highlighted the injustice inflicted on the population due to the sanctions that must be lifted, as the sanctions negatively affect the lives of the people, who are barely able to fulfil their basic needs.
The meeting was also attended by His Eminence Bishop Moussa El-Khoury and Archimandrite Meletios Chattahi, director of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development in the Patriarchate.
The delegation also visited His Eminence Bishop Armash Nalbandian, Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Diocese of Damascus, and discussed with him issues related to the region as well as the situation of its Christians. Then the delegation visited His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, who highlighted the current circumstances the churches are passing through in Syria. He also expressed his regret over the absence of the WCC during the difficult period that Syria witnessed, especially the faithful of the WCC member churches, who suffered from the crisis that the country experienced. His Holiness tackled “the necessity to lift the illegal and unilateral sanctions which hurt the people and prevent them from getting their basic needs.”
Moreover, the delegation was informed about the work done by the Patriarchate to provide aid to the Syrian people and the development projects it is implementing, aiming at providing job opportunities and helping families affected by the deteriorating economic conditions.
Afterwards, the delegation visited Rev. Boutros Zaour, pastor of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Damascus, who presented the projects that his church is implementing to accompany the deprived people.
On the second day of its visit in Syria, the delegation headed to the city of Aleppo, and had a first visit to His Eminence Bishop Ephreim Maalouli, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, Alexandretta and their Dependencies, at the Diocese's residence in Aleppo. The meeting was attended by His Eminence Bishop Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the Arabic Evangelical Church in Aleppo, Rev. Dr Haroutiun Selimian, head of the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syria, His Eminence Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, Latin Vicariate Apostolic of Syria, His Eminence Bishop Boutros Kassis, Patriarchal Assistant and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Delegate to Aleppo, His Eminence Bishop Yousef Toubaji, Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo, His Eminence Mor Dionysius Antoine Shahda, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Archimandrite Georges Masri, Melkite Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop of Aleppo, Seleucia and Cyrus and Dependencies, and Archimandrite Meletios Chattahi, director of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
At the beginning of the meeting, His Eminence Bishop Ephreim Maalouli welcomed the delegation, and said that the heads of churches in Aleppo constitute a council of churches and are in continuous contact and ongoing meetings.
During the meeting with His Eminence Bishop Ephreim Maalouli, Sauca stressed the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East, especially in Syria, explaining that his visit aimed at being informed about the challenges faced by Christians in Syria and in order to listen to their needs and submitting them to the WCC 11th Assembly.
Sauca said: “We carry the churches of the Middle East in our hearts,” noting that “the Middle East Council of Churches is the umbrella for churches in the world.” Sauca also expressed his happiness because of the relation of love and brotherhood that unites the various Christian denominations in Syria.
From his end, Dr Michel Abs stressed the need for a meeting between spiritual leaders at the local, diocesan and pastoral levels, aiming at increasing the level of interaction between churches and coordinating their activities.
As well as, attendees tackled during the meeting, the need of lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, and which have burdened the population, and the importance of helping Christians to remain in their homeland.
Following this visit, the delegation made a tour to many churches and social facilities that had been restored in Aleppo, including the Private Syrian Secondary School affiliated with the Armenian Orthodox Church and and Al Rahma Home for Elderly in Aleppo affiliated with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate. Noting that the Middle East Council of Churches in cooperation with Kerk in Actie in the Netherlands made these restoration works as part of the “Restoration Fund for Rehabilitation of Faith-based Social Services & Religious Infrastructure Damaged During the Crisis in Syria” program.
On the third day, the delegation returned to Damascus, where Rev. Prof. Dr Sauca participated in the Divine Liturgy presided over by His Beatitude Patriarch John X in the Church of the Holy Cross.
In his homily, Sauca said: “We came here to show our love and support for the Syrian people. We think of you, we pray for you, and we care for you all. Christianity started from here and you are the cradle of Christianity and witnesses to Christ and His Resurrection several centuries ago. Your testimony is an encouragement for us. We came here to listen to you, and to carry your concerns and expectations to the members of the WCC 11th Assembly, which will be held under the theme “Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”
Following the Holy Liturgy, the delegation met with the parishioners in the church meeting room, where an extensive discussion took place related to tackling the situation in Syria and the region, and the suffering of the people due to the sanctions.
On the fourth day, the delegation headed to the city of Arbin in rural Damascus, and visited the Social Rehabilitation Center affiliated with the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development at the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate. The delegation visited as well the St Georges Greek Orthodox Church and its affiliated school, which have been restored by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
The delegation then visited Al Shams Social Center and the Free Medical Clinics Center in Arbin, affiliated with St Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee, and had a look on the various ongoing activities. Then, the delegation headed to the "Helm" Center in Arbin, affiliated with the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development.
The delegation ended its tour by visiting the St Gregory Orthodox Society for Orphans and the Elderly Care Center in Damascus.