Meeting between Federal Councilor Alain Berset and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim

On December 2, 2014, Federal Councilor Alain Berset welcomes Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim and his delegation at the Wattenwyl House in Bern. The head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is on a pastoral visit to Switzerland from November 29 to December 3. The Patriarch gives an account of the extremely alarming situation of Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. He asks the Swiss authorities for stronger involvement in the region, which has been at war for almost four years. The meeting takes place at the suggestion of Rev. Rita Famos, President of the Swiss Ecumenical Council (AGCK).
Foto: Pia Neuenschwander

Mgr Isa Gürbüz, Federal Councilor Alain Berset, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim and Rita Famos

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim gives a first-hand report on the situation of Christian minorities in Syria and the Middle East. For four years, civil war has been raging in Syria, resulting in one of the worst refugee catastrophes in world history. The approaching winter and the terror of the IS militia are aggravating the situation of millions of people. Women, children and the elderly who have fled the war zones are living in emergency shelters or destroyed buildings. They lack even the most basic necessities. In Syria alone, more than ten million people are dependent on humanitarian aid; three million people live as refugees in neighboring states. Christian minorities, but also Muslim minorities are threatened because of their religious affiliation. The specific contribution of Switzerland was discussed.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim has succeeded in unifying all Christian denominations in the region in the resistance against oppression. The religious minorities need the help of Switzerland, which is a steadfast advocate for human rights, as well as the support of the churches and their relief organizations.

Also present for the meeting between the Patriarch and Councilor Berset were Mgr Isa Gürbüz, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop for Swiss and Austria, Rev. Rita Famos, President of the National Ecumenical Council (AGCK) and a council member of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC), as well as Rev. Martin Hirzel, the FSPC Executive Secretary for Ecumenism and Religious Communities.

On September 7, the AGCK organized an intercessional worship service in Berne in solidarity with the imperiled minorities in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. More than 700 people attended, among them many orthodox Syrians from Switzerland and Southern Germany. The FSPC, which currently presides over the AGCK, also maintains active lines of communication with the Swiss authorities. The FSPC has repeatedly expressed its concern for the Christian minorities in this region of the world and asked the Federal Council to intensify its involvement there.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim is the spiritual leader of the Syriac Orthodox Community. He lives in Damaskus. The Christian minorities want to stay in the region, which has been their home for two millennia. The Syriac Orthodox Church is the oldest Christian church. Its liturgical language continues to be Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and their members have made enormous contributions to keeping alive Christian culture in the Middle East.