Syria – time for ‘grown-up’ action

My wife and I regularly lead pilgrimages to various countries. When we go to the Holy Land, we usually begin with a trip to the top of the Mount of Olives – just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The first church we visit is called ‘Pater Noster’ – Latin for ‘Our Father’. It’s built over a cave, which, by tradition, is where Jesus first taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer,

All round the walls of the church are panels with the words of the prayer in most of the world’s major languages. At one point there’s a smallish panel which has the prayer in Aramaic – the everyday language which Jesus and his disciples spoke.

About four years ago, on another pilgrimage, we went to a small village with a mixed Christian and Muslim community, which is one of the few places where the Aramaic language is still used. We were welcomed at the church by the local priest who told us about the history of this very ancient Christian community. Then he asked if we’d like him to say the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic. As we listened, it was an amazing experience – hearing those words as Jesus himself would have said them.

We saw that church and that village on the television news earlier this week. Its people had fled, and opposing forces were fighting to control it. Bullets and shells were flying, and military aircraft circled overhead looking for targets. The village is called Maaloula. It’s in Syria – about 30 miles from Damascus.

It was so sad to see that village – and it’s church – which we had visited, being torn apart in civil war and its people seeking shelter in Damascus itself, not knowing whether they will ever be able to return to their home. Just one small village and its people, but it somehow made the tragedy of Syria more real and more personal. We had been there.

Going to such places does that for you. In the same way we can appreciate the problems of Israel and Palestine on a personal level, because we’ve been there so often and met real people – Muslim, Jewish and Christian. We walked on the streets of Cairo a few months before the revolution, and visited St Catherine’s Monastery near Mount Sinai, now forced to close to visitors since the overthrow of President Morsi in July. We were in Istanbul about six months before the riots there. We walked along the Boston street where the bombing took place during the marathon. We had been to those places – and somehow the television pictures came alive – real people in real places.

I sometimes wish that our political leaders and media pundits could see that more clearly. It’s all too easy for them to pontificate from a distance and rush to take what they often see as the simplest way of sorting out problems. We used to call it ‘gunboat diplomacy.’ Now it’s launching some cruise missiles for a so-called ‘surgical strike’ to bring an offending country into line.

But where have the world’s leaders been for the last two and a half years? A hundred thousand people – real people – have died in Syria. Four million people – real people – have fled their homes and are now refugees, either within Syria or in neighbouring countries. Yes – the use of poison gas three weeks ago was terrible, but it was one more, particularly terrible chapter in this escalating civil war, which could end up engulfing the whole of the Middle East.

There are no easy answers – military or diplomatic – for Syria. But neither hand-wringing inaction nor gung-ho firing of cruise missiles are acceptable.

I don’t know whether the Russians and the Syrian government have really changed their attitudes. I don’t know whether America and her allies will still go ahead with the use of force. At times it’s seemed over recent days that in London and Washington, in Moscow and Damascus, they’ve been making it up as they go along. The innocent victims in Syria deserve better than this amateurish approach to their suffering. They need the rest of the world to act like grown-ups. Could we be seeing the early signs of this in the agreement between the U.S. and Russia about dealing with Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons? Maybe so. And maybe they’ll learn to allow the United Nations to do its job rather than trying to be ‘top-dog’ themselves.

But what can we ordinary people do about it? Well – we can ask the hard questions. We can try to understand. We can watch the television pictures and think of the real people – men women and children – families just like ours. And we can pray for them. Pray too for the United Nations and for political leaders across the world, that they will have the wisdom and the understanding to find peaceful solutions to this and the world’s other problems.

It’s sometimes said that mankind has come of age. Not yet it hasn’t. We may be very clever. But we haven’t yet learned true wisdom. We may have some understanding of what needs to be done, but actually doing it is another matter.

A reminder of the collect, the special prayer for this Sunday: O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(If you have found this blog interesting or helpful, please pass on the link to others.)

2 Responses to “Syria – time for ‘grown-up’ action”


  1. 1 Janet Marrott December 15, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Geoff,
    Your Blog about Syria has really moved me. I am no good at Social Media but I do appreciate that you have been able to get across a message that the media does not seem to. It is all too easy for all of us to think that solutions can be found just by waiting for our politicians to do something.
    I pray that the chemical weapons really are being destroyed and that there can be a peace in the Middle East in our time.

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