Christian leaders across Syria have joined with the faithful to consecrate the country to the hearts of Jesus and Mary in a bid to bring lasting peace to the war-torn land.
On Friday, 29th September prayer ceremonies were held across the country, including in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Latakia, Tartous and Haba.
Bishop Elias Sleman, who helped lead the celebrations in Damascus with Maronite Bishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the consecration was vital to help restore peace.
Bishop Sleman said: “The consecration is so important to sanctifying the Syrian people.
“Peace must begin in our spirit and within us, and then spread throughout our society, to become a national, and social, peace.”
Bishop Sleman, who was Maronite Bishop of Latakia, northern Syria during the early part of the conflict but is currently in Lebanon in a senior canonical role, emphasised the need to change people’s hearts to bring about a lasting peace.
He said: “The most important factor is the human one. We have to transform human beings. That is the way of the real and permanent peace.”
Bishop Sleman’s plea for inner conversion echoed the prayers of the consecration: “O Queen of Peace, ask your Son Jesus for our sake, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to heal our bodies and souls, to purify our minds, our hearts and our memory.
“Teach us to forgive, to live according to the will of the Father, for peace, love and reconciliation, to be established, through the intercession of all the saints and the martyrs of this holy land.”
The events which took place across Syria were jointly organised by several Eastern Catholic Churches including Maronite, Melkite, Syriac and Armenian Catholics – and Orthodox Christians also joined in the prayer ceremonies.
The formal act of consecration took place at 7pm (local time) following Mass, Rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
A novena – nine days of prayer – was undertaken to prepare for the consecration. The novena involved prayer, penitence and fasting.
Bishop Elias Sleman stressed the importance of supporting Christians to return to life after conflict.
He said: “We have to prepare our people for the period post war.
“The first victim of the war is generally the ethic, dignity, and honesty. We have to face these factors.”
He underlined the importance of supporting young Catholics both morally and spiritually.
Starting yesterday (Sunday, 1st October) Syria’s Catholic Churches began a nine-day period of prayer and thanksgiving, following on from the consecration.