THE CHRISTIANS IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Every 5 minutes somewhere in the world, every year over 100 thousand Christians are killed – the papal organization Help to the Church in Need alarms. The guest of the Warsaw presentation of a report on persecutions of the Christians was the patriarch Grzegorz III Laham
The presence of the unusual guest – the Catholic patriarch of the Melkite Church Grzegorz (Gregorios) III Laham at the presentation of a report of the organization Help to the Church in Need was not accidental. The document draws a particular attention to the exodus of the Christians from the countries of the Middle East, including Syria. Its authors point out to the fact that Syria overwhelmed by the civil war, where the Muslims are 93 percent of the society, is at present the most dangerous country for the Christians who are a small minority – about 5 percent of inhabitants. The everyday life of Syria consists of kidnappings and sales to captivity and encouragements for rapes on the Christians. 300 thousand Christians have already escaped from the country.
- In Syria about 2 thousand groups are fighting, not necessarily the Syrians, these are groups of criminals and bandits, which are out of any control. Therefore, the biggest danger for the Christians is nor from the Muslims, but the chaos – the patriarch emphasized.
Every 5 minutes
Every 5 minutes one Christian is killed in the world, every year – 105 thousand. There are 200 million brutally persecuted followers of Christ, in over 70 countries of the world the right for religious freedom is breached, and 350 million of the Christians are subjected to various forms of discrimination – the report is alarming. The editor of the Polish version of the report in a form of a book, whose presentation was held in the headquarter of the Secretariat of the Polish Episcopal Conference, is the Polish section of the organization Help to the Church in Need. The presentation began with a prayer for Syria, conducted in Arabian by the patriarch Grzegorz III. Before saying it, the patriarch had announced that the text refers to the conversion of St. Paul on his way to Damascus, and he added that he had been saying the prayer every day recently.
‘A report about persecutions of the Christians in the years 2011- 2012. Persecuted and forgotten’ describes a situation in a dozen countries. It draws a particular attention to the difficult situation of the Christians in Syrian and the countries of the so-called Arabian spring, but it also devotes much attention to China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
In these countries persecutions of the Christians take place in various, sometimes sophisticated ways. In China where they are 9 percent of the society, in the recent time, more cases of breaching religious freedom were registered than so far. The number of arrests grew, among the others of: the Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists and defenders of human rights. Arrested priests of the underground Catholic Church, not acknowledged by the authorities, are beaten, tortured and forced to joining the Church which is official, controlled by the state. One of the causes of the persecutions are, in the opinion of the authors of the report, fears of the Chinese government that the universal social discontent may lead to public pronouncements similar to those which cause the collapse of the regimes in Arabic countries.
Peoples’ Arabic Spring
In these countries the causes of the protest waves, that is, the Arabic spring, became: unemployment among young people, moon’s economy and revolt against apodictic government. Unexpectedly, they led to the increase in persecutions of the Christians and their exodus.
- The Middle East became a very difficult place to survive for the Christians. During the last 30 years, half of Christ’s followers living there, left this region. In Iraq, 1.5 million of the Christians lived 10 years ago, whereas there are only 300 thousand of them now –said Fr. dr. Andrzej Halemba, the chief of the department for the Middle East of the organization Help to the Church in Need.
Fr. dr. hab. Waldemar Cisło, a director of the Polish section of the organization Help to the Church in Need reminded the words of Benedict XVI from his apostolic exhortation ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente’ saying that the Middle East without the Christians will not be the same as it was so far, because the Christians learnt to live with the Muslims there for ages. – The Christians are not afraid of Islam, but extremism. They have been bringing what is the most valuable into those societies for ages: respect for another man regardless of his religious affiliation - Fr. Waldemar Cisło emphasized.
They were creating the history of Syria
Syria, being so far a country friendly to the Christians, has become an arena of persecutions of the Christians in the recent years, and persecutions which are particular because they are doubled: because of the civil war lasting from March 2011 and persecutions from radical Muslims – thinks Fr. Halemba, but, despite the opinions of some radical Muslim activists, they were not supported by the government. – They have served to the country for nearly 2 thousand years, were creating its history, were building its power. They were not big but essential part of the Syrian society. During the last 3 years it has been destroyed -said Fr. Halemba. As a result of the civil war 2 million houses were destroyed, and a few million people had to leave their homes. Only in the very Lebanon there were 850 refugees.
As a special guest of the presentation – patriarch Grzegorz III Laham noted – the Christians in these lands maintained Arabic language and traditions during the Turkish reign. These were them who took care about the national identity of peoples living here. If there is lack of them – the patriarch emphasized – these lands, the heart of Christianity, will become only Islamic and they will not be what they were before 2000 thousand years. And the Middle East will not be the Middle East any more.
They bring chaos and destruction
The biggest danger for the Christians is not from the Muslims – thinks Grzegorz III. – In Syria about 2 thousand groups coming from abroad are fighting and which are out of any control. They bring chaos and destruction – he emphasized. These are criminals and bandits, people who want to experience a specific adventure, these are Islamists, Salafists, headhunters, wranglers. They have nothing in common with Syria. They are tools in the hands of others. And those, who give money for weapons, are guilty of the tragedy in Syria.
As the patriarch emphasized, today the everyday life consists of kidnappings, bomb attacks. They happen everywhere, also in districts inhabited by the Christians. – 60 churches were destroyed, we have martyrs, victims, over 20 parishes were deserted – there are not believers there because they escaped. 3 thousand schools were destroyed, and 3 million children will be touched by the trauma of the war – said the patriarch Grzegorz.
Therefore peace is what Syria needs the most and the soonest. – If there is peace in Syria, it will be easier to attain peace in the Middle East and prevent the escape of the Christians from this region – said Grzegorz III.
How to end the conflict in Syria? In the opinion of the patriarch, it is necessary to isolate rebels and governmental forces and lead to peace talks. Now there is a more important question: how to solve the conflict than: who is guilty of it.
The peace conference, the so-called Geneva II, is to be held in January 2014. But the date is not certain – it was postponed a few times. Some of the Syrian opposition do not want to participate in the conference at all, and some of it agrees to participate in it only if it would be possible to force the president of Syria Baszszar al-Assada to resign from his authority. The previous set date of this international meeting was 23 November 2013.
Christmas with Francis
In a short perspective of Syria, material help is essential. Speaking about material support, Grzegorz III noted jokingly, that ‘he has much experience in begging for help’. Thanks to the means received from abroad , he managed to erect many institutions for needing people, especially for children – in Lebanon, where he had been a bishop for many years, and now he is a bishop in Syria.
Help given to the Syrian Christians serves, as he noted, not only them, but first of all, inhabitants from these areas. The patriarch also thanked the Polish Church and society for helping brothers and sisters in the Middle East, especially in Syria.
Grzegorz III reminded that local Christians have not celebrated Christmas for 3 years which had a very solemn character: in Damascus parades of various groups were organized, for example, of scouts, streets were richly illuminated and the ceremony was attended by the local Muslims. – This year the authorities want to illuminate streets for Christmas modestly – said Grzegorz III. There are also plans to organize a symbolic bridge of prayer on 25 December: Rome – Damascus – with the participation of pope Francis and all Christians hierarchs who will gather in the capital city of Syria on this day.