Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Jesuit Expelled from Syria Says Country Needs Regime Change

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Jesuit Expelled from Syria Says Country Needs Regime Change

Article excerpt

ROME * Italian Jesuit Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio was expelled from Syria in mid-June after he intensified his public calls for democratic change in the country.

"The blood on the ground must be respected and religious leaders must speak out," Dall'Oglio told Catholic News Service in Rome July 18.

The Jesuit had been based in Syria for 30 years, and since 1982 had been restoring an ancient monastery in the desert and forming a religious community dedicated to Christian-Muslim dialogue and harmony.

With the priest back in Italy and with Syria embroiled in violence, the Mar Musa monastery continues to operate "normally--or as normal as possible in Syria today," he said.

Since he was kicked out of the country June 16, fighting has spread to Damascus, the Syrian capital, "which was to be expected," he said. "Whether it will be a momentary fever depends on how many weapons the opposition has. If they are able to get weapons, the revolt will speed up in the worst possible way," hardening positions on both sides and increasing the violence.

Dall'Oglio said the government initially asked the local bishop to send him home last November, but public support put the move on hold. Then, in late May, the rising violence made him feel he had no choice but to speak out more loudly. He published an open letter to Kofi Annan, the U.N. envoy to Syria, saying a regime change in the country was necessary in order to restore peace and bring democracy.

The letter, he said, "was the immediate reason I was expelled."

Syrian President Bashar Assad set himself up as the protector of religious freedom in the country and successfully convinced many religious leaders that Christian-Muslim harmony was his doing when, in fact, the country always had a cultural tradition of religious moderation and tolerance, the Jesuit said.

"Discussions with the regime were possible until April 2011" when the situation turned violent, he said. …

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