Jesuit head slams US over Syria attack

Paterno Esmaquel II
The head of the world's biggest religious order, the Jesuits, criticizes the US' 'abuse of power'

JESUIT LEADER. Jesuit superior general Fr Adolfo Nicolas (center) poses with the youth during a visit to Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, in 2011. Two years later, he slams the United States for a planned attack on Syria. Photo courtesy of www.sjweb.info

MANILA, Philippines – The head of the world’s biggest religious order, in a rare and stinging statement, condemned the United States’ planned attack on Syria as an “abuse of power” that he found “extremely upsetting.”

Fr Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits, also said the US should stop acting like the world’s “big boy.”

“I have to confess that I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure,” Nicolas said in an interview published by the Jesuits on Wednesday, September 4.

He explained: “Violence and violent action, like what is being planned, have to always be the last resort and administered in such a way that only the guilty are affected. In the case of a country, this is evidently impossible to control and, thus, it seems to me totally unjustified. We, Jesuits, support 100% the Holy Father and wish with all our hearts that the threatened attack on Syria does not take place.”

Nicolas leads the 18,000 members of the Society of Jesus, which runs prominent schools such as Georgetown University in the United States and the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Pope Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, also belongs to the influential group.

By issuing these statements, Nicolas joined the growing clamor against the planned attack in Syria.

Francis himself has called on Christians, members of other religions, and non-believers to hold on Saturday, September 7, a day of prayer and fasting for Syria. In the Philippines, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and other bishops have pledged to participate.

READ: Manila to join day of prayer for Syria

Violence in the strife-torn country, after all, has forced over two million Syrians to flee, and has displaced around 4.2 million internally.

READ: Number of Syrian refugees passes 2M mark – UN

US: World’s ‘big boy’

In his interview posted by the Jesuit Curia in Rome, Nicolas said “all abuse of power is to be condemned and rejected.”

“And, with all respect for the people of the United States, I think that a military intervention like the one being planned is itself an abuse of power. The US has to stop acting and reacting like the big boy of the neighborhood of the world. This leads inevitably to abuse, harassment, and bullying of the weaker members of the community,” Nicolas said.

SYRIAN REFUGEES. A photo made available on September 1, 2013 shows Syrian refugees crossing at the Cilvegozu border gate in Reyhanli, Hatay, Turkey on August 31, 2013. Photo by EPA/Emin Sansar Turkey

He also called for a probe into Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, which prompted US President Barack Obama to push for an attack on Syria.

READ: US Senate measure has 90-day deadline on Syria action

Nicolas said it should be clear to the world “that one party in the conflict and not the other has used them.”

“It is not enough that some members of the punishing government make a statement of conviction. They have to convince the world, so that the world can trust in them. This confidence does not happen today, and many have already started speculation about the ulterior motives that the USA may have in the projected intervention,” Nicolas said.

Nicolas also warned against collateral damage. He said “the means considered adequate to punish the abuse” shouldn’t harm “the very victims of the original abuse, once it has been proved to exist.”

The Jesuit superior general clarified it “is not customary” for him to comment on political or international affairs. Nicolas, however, said the situation in Syria is a humanitarian issue “that exceeds all the limits that would ordinarily keep me silent.”

“Because the danger is now,” he explained.

Miriam: ‘We’re not players’

The attack in Syria has drawn mixed reactions worldwide.

In the Philippines, a senator on Wednesday described the proposed Syria attack as an “American power play.”

“We’re not part of it. We’re not players. We’re merely part of the background chorus,” Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, chair of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, said in a press conference.

Santiago added: “Be careful with the question of Syria. It’s not for us to decide. If we decide to accommodate US desires or US wishes, then of course all these kinds of help and grants will come. But if not, something will destabilize our government. Ganoon naman talaga ang Amerika eh.” (That’s how America really is.) 

Up to 3,000 Filipinos in Syria, however, remain in danger.

The Philippine government on Monday, September 2, said Filipinos there should “get out of harm’s way” and immediately seek repatriation.

READ: Flee Syria, Pinoys warned amid planned attack

“In the meantime we advise our kababayans (countrymen) to avoid places which could be the target of air strikes, such as military installations, telecommunications facilities, defense buildings, and the like,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.