Parolin: Unilateral military solutions should be avoided in the Middle East

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During the Consistory presided by Pope Francis, the Vatican Secretary of State discussed the dramatic situation in the Middle East, urging patriarchs to avoid seeking the protection of military leaders and encouraging respectful dialogue with Islam. Francis pointed out that Christians are being persecuted amid the indifference of many.

Avoid a unilateral military solution. Engage in dialogue with Islam, calling on Muslim religious leaders to distance themselves from the self-proclaimed Caliphate and helping to encourage Islam to make a distinction between religion and State. Give encouragement to Christians and other minorities in warzones such as Iraq and Syria, who are tempted to emigrate. These were the opening points the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, made in his introduction to this morning’s Consistory presided by Pope Francis. The Pope convened the Consistory for the canonizations of the Blesseds Giuseppe Vaz and Cristina of the Immaculate Conception. The Consistory included a discussion on the situation in the Middle East, attended by 86 cardinals and patriarchs of Middle Eastern Churches. This was an opportunity for Parolin to inform clerics about “some points and work strategies” and emerged during the meeting with Superiors of Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and Apostolic Nuncios to the Middle East, which took place in the Vatican between 2 and 4 October. He urged patriarchs not to “rely on political or military authorities for protection or to ‘guarantee’ their survival.”

“Being a small flock, the vocation of Catholics is to act as yeast in a mixture,” Parolin said. “United among themselves and with the faithful of other Churches and Christian denominations and working with people of other faiths, particularly Muslims, they are called to be creators of peace and reconciliation. They must not to rely on political or military authorities for protection or to ‘guarantee’ their survival.” They must contribute in a unique way to their respective societies, which are being transformed by modernization, democracy, rule of law and pluralism.” “Hence, it is important for Shepherds to stand by their flock.” “Support and gratitude was extended to Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests and Men and Women Religious who watch over their communities, for everything they do to help Christians in the Middle East and other religious and ethnic groups that are subjected to violence.”

In another part of his speech, Cardinal Parolin turned to the question of the use of force to halt aggression and to protect Christians and other groups who are victims of persecution. “In this regard, it was stressed repeatedly that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor – always, however, in a manner consistent with international law as the Holy Father has also affirmed.” In any case, we have seen clearly that the resolution of the problem cannot be entrusted only to a military response. This needs to be dealt with in greater depth, starting with the sources that sustain fundamentalist ideologies.” In what appeared to be a reference to US intervention in Iraq, Parolin then said that the international community must “get to the root of the problem, recognize the mistakes of the past and try to foster a future of peace and development for the Region, giving central importance to the wellbeing of the person and the common good.”

Speaking about the threat posed by the “self-styled Islamic State”, Cardinal Parolin said “attention must be paid to the sources that sustain [the organization’s] terrorist activities through more-or-less clear political support, as well as through illegal commerce in oil and the supply of weapons and technology.” He said it is “an entity that infringes on the law and uses terrorist methods to try to spread its power.” The Secretary of State returned to this subject more than once: Muslim leaders have a special responsibility, not just to reject the right the entity claims it has to call itself ‘Islamic State’ and to form a Caliphate, but also to condemn the killing of others for religious purposes, as well as any other kind of discrimination,” Parolin said. He emphasized that participants who attended the meeting at the start of October observed a “lack of separation between religion and State.” “It would be important, therefore,” he added, “to contribute to efforts to nurture the notion of the distinction of these two spheres in the Muslim world.”

Parolin then reminded the international community of its responsibilities, emphasizing the right refugees have to return to their countries. He stressed the importance of acting “to prevent possible new genocides”. Speaking about the risk of the Christian exodus from the region which shows no sign of stopping, Parolin remarked that the controversy surrounding the issue of visas to refugees by Western countries was a “delicate issue”. But, “if we want Christians to remain in the region they must be guaranteed adequate living conditions, safety, work and prospects for the future.” In his dense speech, the Secretary of State’s also mentioned Lebanon, which he said must be “independent, sovereign, united and free.” He spoke of the need to “involve” Iran in the resolution of the Syrian and Iraqi crises and the fight against the Islamic State.

The meeting was introduced by the Pope, who amongst other things said that “we cannot resign ourselves to thinking about the Middle East without Christians, who for two thousand years have confessed the name of Jesus [there]. Recent events, especially in Iraq and Syria, are very worrying. We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable dimensions. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have [been constrained] leave their homes in a brutal way. It seems that the awareness of the value of human life has been lost, it seems that the person does not count and can be sacrificed for other interests. All of this, unfortunately, because of the indifference of so many.” “This unfair situation, requires an adequate response by the international community, as well as and in addition to our constant prayer.” During a news briefing, Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, pointed out that also there “has often been mention” of the possibility of a papal visit to Iraq, “nothing concrete has yet been decided and certainly not anytime soon.”

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi