The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest from Italy who worked in Syria for decades but was exiled by the government in June 2012 for his activism with the opposition rebels, has recently been reported missing in the country. He had been trying to broker negotiations between warring factions in northern Syria, the Kurds and a branch of Al Qaeda, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, The New York Times reported.
Father Dell’Oglio was also familiar in United Nations circles: he spoke at the International Peace Institute, a nonprofit group closely aligned with the UN, in New York just a year ago on his struggle to help the Syrian rebels attain democracy.
In July 2013, he sent this letter to acquaintances by e-mail, accompanied by a petition to Pope Francis to intervene against the Syrian regime’s propaganda wars in its so-called defense of Christians against Islamic terrorism. Here is Father Dall’Oglio’s letter, prefacing the petition to the pope:
My name is Paolo Dall’Oglio, I am a Jesuit, and for more than thirty years I have promoted in Syria the Islamic-Christian harmony-building.
I took a position in favor of the Syrian democrats crushed by an inhuman and indiscriminate repression that I was hoping not to have to see in the twenty-first century. I was expelled in June 2012, and have since been working full-time in defending the rights of Syrians and the legitimacy of their revolution.
Today we know that Syria is the ring of a regional geopolitical fight to death. In all this, the Churches have not been able to react in time, and Christians, now trapped in the war zones, simply tend to leave the country.
Unfortunately, the Syrian regime has been very clever in using a certain number of clergymen, men and women, for its propaganda in the West, in which it represents itself as the only and ultimate bastion defending Christians persecuted by Islamic terrorism.
This manipulation of the public opinion has succeeded in discrediting to a large extent the Syrian revolutionary effort, both on the ground and abroad, in the eyes of many citizens around the world, and was thus able to create a paralysis of European diplomacy and politics, which ultimately only strengthens the most extremist groups and weakens the civil society.
The strong and instrumental implication of the Churches in the systematic manipulation of lies by the regime cannot but require a conscious and responsible reaction on behalf of the Catholic Church and therefore of the Pope of Rome.
The petition I present to your attention will show the most cohesive and mature face of the Italian and international society, and will allow Pope Francis to overcome the resistance of his context which tends to be islamophobic, though often in a typically subtle and indirect way, and to launch his own diplomatic initiative, requesting the intervention of new actors such as Latin America.
This my petition, which is now yours, presents to the Pope the need to counter the current systematic use by the regime of clergymen among the most important in the Middle East, in order to look beyond and meet the expectations of all Syrians who are suffering for freedom, and to prepare a positive future for those Christians who will choose to remain in the country or return.
Dear and most esteemed Pope Francis,
Knowing you as a lover of peace in justice, we ask you to personally promote an urgent and inclusive diplomatic initiative for Syria which would ensure the end of the torturous and murdering regime, safeguard the unity in diversity of the country, and allow by means of democratic self-determination with international assistance to exit from the war between armed extremisms.
We ask with confidence Pope Francis to personally inquire about the systematic manipulation of the catholic opinion in the world by accomplices of the Syrian regime, especially clergymen, with the intention to radically deny the democratic revolution, and justify with the excuse of terrorism the repression that is increasingly acquiring genocide character.
Father Paolo Dall’Oglio
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.