His Eminence Ignatius Yūsuf Yūnān, patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church, has paid his first visit to Egypt. Patriarch Ignatius was born in al-Hassakah governorate in the Eeastern of Syria in 1944. He studied philosophy and theology in Rome and was graduated from the Propaganda School [Editor: this is the name of the school according to the Arabic text] there in 1971. In 1980 Patriarch Hāyik nominated hism as assistant priest in Saydat al-Bishārah parish in Beirut, where he devotedly served during the hard days of the civil war in Lebanon. In 1986 he moved to the United States and was ordained metropolitan of North America by Pope Jean Paul II. Then he became the Hāyik’s Patriarch’s assistant Hāyik in 1996.
In this interview, conducted with patriarch Ignatius Yūsuf Yūnān by Father Rafīq Graish, his eminence stated that this visit was thehis first to Egypt, and that he was invited to participate in the conference of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops that was held this year in Egypt inat the end of December 2009.
Responding to a question about the conditions of the Syrian Catholic communities, especially in Syria and Iraq, his eminence noted that the Syrian Catholic Church is known to be the smallest Eastern Catholic church. He referred to the persecution practiced on against the church’s community in Turkey a century ago. He added that his predecessors were in Mardin in Turkey before escaping to Syria by due to a fear of the persecution against Christians. His parents escaped to Syria, which that was under the French occupation at that time. Then he noted the hardship of the civil war in Lebanon, where the patriarchate headquarters in West Beirut was destroyed in addition to a school and two churches that were destroyed over Lebanon. In Iraq, however, the Syrian Catholic Church is, the second biggest denomination after the Chaldean Church, suffered from the hard conditions of the war and witnessed a noticeable shrinking decrease in the number of the community membersits congregation. He noted Mosul as the only flourished parish where the number of the Syrian Catholic Community has increased, because of the interiornal emigration to the city.
Patriarch Ignatius visited Iraq in October, 2009. He paid a visit to the Iraqi Prime Minister ‘Adnān al-Mālikī and President Jalāl Tālibānī. In both visits he stressed thate fact that Christians are an integral part of the Iraqi society and that thereir demands are not to get privileges but their rights that are, based on correcttrue citizenship principles. For displaced Iraqi Christians to return to their home land, they need to be granted security and descent lifeving conditions that should be afforded provided by the government,. Simply because only ccalling on them to come back is not enough in the absence of these two factors.
Father Graish asked:
Q: Is there hope for Christians to come back to Iraq? Does the so-called “project of evacuating ridding the Middle East of Christians” exist?
A: I do not know the hidden details of the international or regional politics, and I cannot says that I have connections among the political decision makers. However, I know that moderate Muslims do not want to displace Christians from their Eastern countries. This is what I have noticed in Iraq; moderate Muslims there want their fellow Christians to come back. I am myself optimistic about being able to overcome this ordeal, like we did in many previous oneshave so many previous times through out history. Today, we need Muslims of the East to call on their Christian fellows to stay in their countries, because a country’ies society is like a mosaic image. Christians are a basic element in the roots and origins of these [Middle Eastern] countries; they imprinted them with their human and intellectual identity, and also with their Christian call tofor peaceful coexistence. […] Our message today is to witness ourselves in our countries. We have to tell the truth to outr Muslim brothers; for we do not live the context of the seventh century in the twenty first century. They [Reviewer: Not specified who exactly] have seats in the United Nations next to different ethnic representatives, and they must known that they need to develop. Freedom is for all; inside and outside Islam.
Patriarch Ignatius said that the civil war in Lebanon and the war in Iraq strengthen people’s faith and people turned motre towards God to rely on. Therefore the number of people who joined the religious life and priesthood has increased.
Patriarch Ignatius told about his service during, before and after his ordination as patriarch a year ago.