NEW YORK — A Roman Catholic priest who was expelled from Syria in June after engaging in interfaith dialogue in that country for 30 years called on Monday for U.N. peacekeepers to help create a peaceful Syria.
Father Paolo Dall’Oglio was expelled by Syrian authorities after he offered his desert monastery for an interfaith memorial service to remember an opposition filmmaker who was killed in the city of Homs.
Now in New York, the Jesuit priest told a news conference that he wants Syria to become a place of reconciliation.
“We need now U.N. forces – not U.N. permission for Western forces, but real U.N. forces – coming to separate the civilians that are fighting each other,” said Dall’Oglio. “And the presence of the United Nations forces on the ground at the falling of the [Bashar al-Assad] regime will help the Syrian people to have a deal of negotiation, to have a constitution that will warranty rights for all the components of this nation.”
Father Paolo added that if the United Nations does not have a key role in Syria, the international community will assume responsibility for what he called the massacres that will occur.
Because of Russian and Chinese vetoes, the United Nations Security Council was unable to adopt a resolution in July threatening possible sanctions against the Syrian government. Instead, the council adopted a resolution that extends the U.N. observer mission until August 19. The mission could be extended further, if the Syrian government stops using heavy weapons and the violence decreases.
A U.N. spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is moving closer to naming a replacement for Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria who resigned last week.
At his news conference, Father Paolo said it is not acceptable to only try to assist Syrian civilians from outside the country.
“I cannot imagine that the U.N. will not assume responsibility for the situation,” he said. “And I assume before the end of the 30 extra days for the Annan initiative, the U.N. will be able to deliberate in the Security Council on the base of a new round of diplomacy for stopping the fight, having a ceasefire, having the regime out of power and creating the condition for constitutional negotiation.”
Father Paolo, who was born in Rome, siad he felt a calling to engage in Christian-Muslim dialogue and discovered an abandoned monastery in Syria 1982, which he rebuilt. He said he considers himself homeless until he returns to Syria where he hopes to act with the people of Syria for reconciliation.