In July, together with a delegation, I visited the churches and people in Lebanon and Syria. We went by car from Lebanon to Damascus and, from there, on to Aleppo.

We saw the pain and suffering of the people, the former towns and villages that are deserted and entirely destroyed. Yet, in the ruins that are left, here and there, we met people, children in kindergarten or classrooms, modest hospitals, and places that care for older people. We were moved to see how the churches are managing and taking care of such projects and that the people who are benefiting from these projects are not only Christians, but all also Muslim and all those in need.

The situation of the people, however, is unbearable. We heard that some people, in despair and fearing for their survival, are selling their organs or their children to buy bread for the other members of the family.

The image of a boy about 10 years old still haunts me. In one meeting we had with a congregation after the Sunday service, alongside others who spoke, this boy also asked to speak. With tears in his eyes he simply asked if we could help to bring medicines for the Syrian people. He did not ask this for his family or for his church but for all Syrian people. Then, he started crying out loud. We discovered that his father was dying of cancer and was now in the terminal phase. He had pains he could not bear, and, because of sanctions, could not find any medicines in the pharmacies.

During our visit, the appeals from the people we met could be summarized as these two requests: Do not forget and abandon us,” and tell the churches the people all over the world about our pain and suffering and ask them on our behalf to do whatever they can to help for the lifting up of the sanctions because it is not the politicians or the government who suffer from it but the normal people.”

When we returned to Geneva, we signed a letter addressed to President Biden asking that the sanctions be lifted. And we are still waiting with hope to get a response.

We have seen such sanctions in other nations as well, inflicting suffering among the people, and we did our best to address those with compassion as well.

The World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, and National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA urged the US to lift crippling sanctions against Iran that greatly impeded response in that nation to COVID-19.

In a letter to Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, I expressed support and admiration for a resolution passed in the United Nations General Assembly that ends the blockade which harms the Cuban people.

I am aware that some of these kinds of initiatives or actions may seem, for some people, unpopular, unfashionable, or even not politically correct. Yet, I personally think that in all situations we cannot keep silent from witnessing to the values of our faith which represent in fact the core of our identity. It is our moral duty to see in the face of every human being God’s image and to address any suffering from the perspective of God’s compassionate love for all who suffer and are in need, not only for some selected ones.

May we work together to build the bridges that lead to compassion beyond boundaries.

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca

Acting General Secretary

World Council of Churches