“Do you think it is a worthy project – worthy to Christian dignity, to side with a regime with this style of violence and repression.” – Father Paolo Dall’Oglio giving a message to Syrian Christians.
A conversation with Father Paolo on Sectarianism, Clergy, and the direction of the Syrian Revolution.
Background to the Conversation.
I had only heard good things about Father Paolo prior to having the privilege to host him in NYC for 72 hours at the conclusion of his North America tour. I had read about his work spanning 30 years in Syria, how he rebuilt Deir Mar Musa from abandon, how he considered himself homeless until he could return to Syria and was even told by activists in Syria to “give him a huge hug” when he arrived.
From everything I heard, he sounded almost too good to be true. However shortly after meeting him I realized I would not be disappointed and became truly impressed with this man’s honesty, humility, candor and passion.
In his short stay, we organized numerous events, meetings and press activities to ensure his message of support for the revolution, unity and national reconciliation could be amplified (see recap of activities). Afterall, Father Paolo has been an importance voice of reason in this struggle – he is a witness to the Assad regime crimes which have impacted Syrians of all backgrounds and has done much to combat Assad apologists who have deceitfully perpetuated regime lies that minorities have been targeted, as we’ve seen recently with “Assad instrument” the nun Mother Agnes Mariam.
Over and over, throughout all conversations, his messages were clear. To summarize:
- The regime has committed terrible atrocities in response to the demands for freedom and must go, now
- Religion should be an asset for Syrian unity, not a tool in service of the regime
- Rejection of sectarianism, and the myth that Assad is the protector of minorities, and that Christians have been targeted by so-called “Islamists”
- Emphasis on the critical role Christians (and other minorities) have in supporting the revolution
- Syrians have the right and duty to defend themselves, through civil and military resistance
- Syria will not be used as a tool by the Russians, Iranians NOR the ‘West’ – this is a ‘Syrian-centric’ revolution
- The international community, namely the UN has a moral responsibility to protect civilians through the use of peacekeepers & observers from “unaligned” nations
- We must all work hard towards national reconciliation, and a Syria grounded in equality and pluralism
- We must all work towards one, unified, post-Assad Syria while rejecting sectarianism, vengeance and repression in all its forms
He answered all questions from reporters, policy influencers, community members with grace and thoughtfulness and even a touch of humor. When asked what will happen next by a packed room of reporters at a press conference by the UN, he whimsically responded that he was a priest not a prophet.
Masked by his charisma however, you can feel his pain and anguish stemming from the devastation occurring in his adopted homeland: “all our feelings are with our martyrs and their families” he often states.
With that said, he stays focused on ensuring the aspirations of this revolution are always in sight. As he concludes in his statement on the occasion of his visit to the United Nations:
The “one Syria” we are all fighting for will be a homeland for all of us regardless of our religious, ethnic or ideological belonging. Unity in harmony is our goal which will shape a project of justice and peace for the Arab nation and the Middle East region altogether.