Statement from the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches

Recent reports from Syria indicate once more that religious communities are being targeted in acts of violence aimed at dividing and manipulating the nation. I write to underline the rejection by the World Council of Churches of any attempt to use religion as an instrument of psychological warfare, political strategy or intimidation.

As General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, I am profoundly shocked and deeply concerned over the brutal murder on the evening of Saturday 22 June of Father François Mourad in the village of Al-Ghassaniyah. This killing seems to have been a targeted attack against the Monastery of St Anthony. I also extend my deep and sincere condolences to Fr François’ family, his Franciscan brothers, as well as to the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa and His Beatitude Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch. May Fr François’ memory be eternal in our Lord’s mind and in the heart of those who loved and knew him.

The Christian people of the village of Al-Ghassaniyah, as well as Father François himself, had desired to stay peacefully in this part of Syria, where they have lived for centuries, alongside local Muslim communities. 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, as are similar attacks that have taken place on Alawite, Shi’ite and Sunni communities and houses of worship, as well as the destruction in March of the oldest Jewish synagogue in Syria.

We have been assured by a number of Syrian Muslim leaders, with whom we are in regular contact and dialogue, of their horror at 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 neighbours, and especially against civilians. We remember how, in March 2011, the beginning of the peaceful uprising in Syria, reclaiming freedom, dignity and equal citizenship, seemed to be a sign of hope for the Syrian people and for the whole region. We are now looking at a completely different and tragic picture.

We continue to pray for the safe release of Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim and Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, abducted on 22 April of all those who are kidnapped, and of other political prisoners. I assure the people of Syria, and our member churches in the region, of the determination of the World Council of Churches to stand in solidarity with them at this very difficult time of pain and suffering.