Syriac Catholic bishops, meeting in Lebanon during their annual synod, called for a diplomatic solution to achieve peace in Syria and Iraq.
In a statement released at the conclusion of the synod, the bishops pleaded for an end to the civil was in Syria, now in its fifth year and urged countries—particularly those directly involved in the conflict—to follow a path of "negotiation to find a peaceful political solution."
With Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan presiding during the Oct. 26-29 gathering at the patriarchal convent of Our Lady of Deliverance in Harissa, Lebanon, the church leaders focused in particular on the dire circumstances caused by war and terrorism in its dioceses in Syria and Iraq.
The bishops denounced the "barbaric acts" carried out by the Islamic State, pointing to the destruction of archaeological and cultural cites integral to the history of Syria and Iraq in places such as Palmyra, Syria, and the ancient monasteries of Mar Behnam in Iraq and Mar Elias in Syria. They also condemned the desecration of Christian graves and the transformation of churches into mosques.
The leaders also thanked God for the release earlier in October of kidnapped Father Jack Murad "and his safe return to his church and his people after four and a half months of captivity at the hands of the forces of terror."
The bishops demanded the liberation of all hostages, particularly those being held from Syria's Khabur region. They renewed their call for the release of two Syrian bishops -- Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo—kidnapped in April 2013.
The prelates lamented the tragedy of displacement and the resulting immigration facing Syriac Catholics. In Iraq, citizens of Mosul and the Ninevah Plain were uprooted in summer 2014 by Islamic State militants, resulting in the exodus of more than 100,000 Christians to the Kurdistan region in the north. Thousands have since immigrated to other countries.
The bishops reiterated their call to Iraqi leaders to solve outstanding problems and disputes "through dialogue and understanding."
They appealed to key countries concerned with Iraq to support its army "to speed up the liberation of Mosul and Nineveh Plain so that people can come back to their homes and live in peace and security."
They also demanded "international guarantees from the United Nations, the central government and the Kurdistan region, to ensure the common security of living between Christians and other components after the return, and compensation for the property they lost."
The bishops prayed for peace between Palestinians and Israelis and urged the international community to undertake "every effort" to pursue a two-state settlement.
As for Lebanon, the bishops called upon the country's leaders "to take serious initiatives" to elect a president after more than a year after the vacancy of the presidential seat.