Leader of Catholics in Syria asks for prayers for conference beginning on Tuesday

The leader of Catholics in Syria has asked people to pray for the success of next week’s all-important peace conference in Geneva.

Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III has called on every Syrian Catholic whatever their circumstances to pray for an end to the hostilities that have prompted almost nine million Syrians to flee their homes since the conflict began almost three years ago.

Writing in his capacity as President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (Bishops) in Syria, the leader of the world’s Melkite Greek Catholics said he was asking for prayers from “my beloved bishops, all our children, priests, monks, nuns, faithful, confraternities, youth movements, families and young people”.

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He appealed to the West to join him and his community in praying for peace: “Let there be a global prayer campaign for peace in Syria, the Holy Land, the Arab world and the whole world.”

In the document, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios said: “We implore [God] to hear our prayers, respond to our cries of distress and the suffering of the victims, and grant us the gift of peace.”

Patriarch Gregorios’ appeal for an end to the violence comes as latest UN figures show that nearly two-fifths (40 per cent) of the country’s 22.5 million pre-war population have now fled their homes – 2.3 million living as refugees abroad and a further 6.5 million displaced within the country.

Addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis – made worse by one of the worst winters on record – the Geneva II Middle East Conference is expected to bring together representatives of Syria’s Assad regime and the opposition in a bid to end the country’s civil war and pave the way for a transitional government.

Initially scheduled for May 2013, the much-delayed conference in Montreux, Switzerland is due to start on Tuesday and involve up to 30 other countries.

These include the US, the UK, France and Germany as well as Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia. The participation of Iran is disputed.

Last month Aid to the Church in Need despatched another series of aid packages for people from Syria.

These included help for 215 displaced families in Damascus under the care of Patriarch Gregorios and emergency support for people from Sadad, the largely Christian town in Syria devastated by violence in November including the “massacre” of 45 people and the mass exodus of thousands of people.

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