Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest and leader of the Deir Mar Musa monastery in Syria, was exiled last month for criticizing President Bashar al-Assad. Dall’Oglio has spent decades at the ancient desert monastery near Damascus leading interfaith dialogue. On July 23, he spoke at an interfaith iftar meal at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Virginia, where Christians and Muslims celebrated the breaking of this month’s daily Ramadan fast. In an interview with R & E summer intern Kadee Brosseau, Dall’Oglio warned against the increasing violence in Syria and acknowledged what he sees as an urgent need for international outreach and intervention. Edited by Fred Yi.
FATHER PAOLO DALL’OGLIO (Deir Mar Musa Monastery): I think that we need the protection of civilians that are involved in the civil war in some parts of Syria, especially on the Orontes River and in Damascus. So we need the protection of UN forces, and for this we need the agreement between US and Russia, in the first term. And we really hope that seeking the protection of people, Russia will accept to send, that the United Nations send forces for this. Then we need non-armed forces to help for the democratic transformation of Syria. it is the will of the people. But for this we don’t need an invasion; we just need people to be allowed to build the Syria they want.
The Syrians are suffering, because of the sanctions, economically. Many of them have been obliged to leave their own home. We have, I think, more than 2 million, more than 2 million Syrians are not living in their normal homes, have been obliged to leave. Most of the Syrians are afraid. So many have lost their children. They have people in prison. They have been shot by torturers. So we are a very pained people, and we beg the solidarity of the people of the world and of USA in a very particular way.
The fight for freedom will be transformed in a civil war, and this will create space for all kinds of extremisms and crimes against humanity and disasters. So it is the responsibility of the international community, of the global civil society, to come and take care and assist the transformation of Syria, in collaboration with the Syrian civil society.
Syria is, for example, one of the oldest countries that has received Christianity. All the Christians of the world, they are in a debt to the church of Syria. Syria has been one of the place where Islam has developed its most high qualities. All the Muslims of the world are in debt with Syria. Syria has been the place also for Jewish community. I think the Jewish community of the world should take care of Syria, and Syria has been one of the mothers of civilization, of the Mediterranean civilization and the human civilization, so please take care of Syria.
The monastery is still in Syria, thank God, and they are receiving people and acting for reconciliation and peace, and I think they are a good seed for a good Syria coming soon.