(Vatican Radio) Patriarch Gregorius Laham says three Catholics were shot dead and
its Christian inhabitants were forced to flee from the village of Maaloula near the
Syrian capital after it was seized by Al Qaida-affiliated rebels on Saturday. Clashes
between Syrian government troops and the rebels have been raging for over a week
in and around Maaloula, an historic and predominantly Christian village that is home
to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. Patriarch Gregorius who is the
spiritual leader of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church spoke to Susy Hodges from his
residence in Damascus.
Listen to the full interview with Patriarch Gregorius Laham:
Patriarch Gregorius said he presided over the funeral on Tuesday for the three young Catholic men who were shot dead by the rebels when they took control of Maaloula over the weekend, describing it as a very “sorrowful” and emotion-charged liturgy. He said virtually all the Christian inhabitants fled from the village and he was told by some witnesses that when the rebels moved into Maaloula they threatened some Christians with death unless they converted to Islam.
The Patriarch also spoke of damage caused by the shelling and fighting to the oldest monastery there and to a number of its churches but says exact information about the extent of the damage is not yet available. He said he believed the rebels who captured the village were partly from the Al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra front and partly from other opposition factions.
Asked for his reaction to the fading threat of an imminent American military strike against Syria, Patriarch Gregorius said they were all very grateful to Pope Francis for his decision to hold a world day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria on September 7th and said the new diplomatic proposal by Russia has given all of them new hope that diplomacy rather than force will prevail. He said the threatened American military intervention against the Syrian regime had caused fear and “deep trauma” among the Catholic community there in Damascus.