CLEANSING FROM CHRISTIANS
- Christians in Syria must choose between two bitter chalices: die or go away -said Samir Nassar, Maronite archbishop of Damascus. - After the Eucharist our Catholics say farewell with tears in their eyes outside a church because they do not know whether one day they will be able to meet again
The papal Association Help to Church in Need with Caritas of Lebanon, addressed their request to all people of good will for immediate help for 12 thousand Christians from a town situated 1.5 km from the Syrian-Lebanon border. Sisters of Good Shepherd, who helped refuges from Syria, were responsible for realization of the project. In the town Homs they have been since 1996, and live in a building of the church of Resurrection where they fulfill their all duties. They are present there in order to fulfill their mission of reconciliation and mercifulness among needing brothers and sisters in Syria, which is experiencing time of a terrible war. – The situation in our country is not changing – they report. –The war is getting rooted more and more by everyday traps and attacks on frontier lines. Sounds of explosions and bullets are heard especially in the evening. The city centre is being bombarded. Destructions are difficult to describe. On the outskirts of the city the number of moving people varies, depending on the tension of bombarding and fights, and has increased recently. Many families coming from Homs and which escaped in order to find a hide in Aleppo and Damascus are returning, populating the empty districts in this way.
Empty villages, empty churches
When in 2011 pro-democratic protests broke out, Christians were trying to maintain their neutrality. However, after some time they were involved into conflicts, which resulted in repressions on a big scale. Hundred thousands of Christians were moved because of fights and left their country during last two years. Melkite patriarch Grzegorz III Laham has spoken about over a thousand Christians recently, who died with martyr death. – Whole villages are depopulated from Christian inhabitants – he informed – and over 40 churches and Christian centres were damaged or destructed.
Tragic experiences caused by the conflict enforced some Christians to open up more to the reigns of the president al-Assad. Everyone in Syria are afraid of radical Islamists who might intensify their harassment after taking over the authority. Surely, the first victims would be Christians.
In the opinion of Grzegorz III Laham, if something endangers Christianity today in Syria, it is not so much the Muslims, but omnipotent chaos. According to sources, the prevailing group in the Syrian society are the Sunnites today (70 per cent), but there are also Shiites and many other factions of Islam which compete with one another, and are often fighting with one another.
As we find out from a report of the organization Help to Church in Need, Syria belongs to the most dangerous places for Christians in the world today. What is worse, nobody sees the end of the nightmare of the war. The first phase of the conflict which began in the beginning of 2011, did not have any signs of persecution or discrimination of Christians and we can even say that, except for Lebanon, which has a special status in the Near East, Syria was one of the best places for Christians to live in the region of the Near East. But all this finished three years ago. In the beginning of the crisis we dealt with even several examples of protection of Christians by Syrian Muslims. However, with passing time and appearing of an enormous number of foreign Hessians who are radical jihadists, the situation of Christians suddenly got worsened.
How would you like to die?
Everyday life of Christians in Syrian is tragic. As agencies inform, recently bishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, the superior of the Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and bishop Boulos Yazigi, the superior of the Greek Orthodox Church there, were kidnapped by armed bandits, when they had set off with humanitarian help to their believers.
Western media describe tragic cases of violence in Syrian cities. Rebels do not save even children. There is a known example of shooting dead a Christian boy, and, on the downside, the crime was filmed by culprits, so that it could be used on Internet as a propaganda material accusing representatives of the governmental party of the tragedy.
There is also a tragic situation of war prisoners. Insurgents imprisoned one of them and kept him in captivity for a long time, asking him every day: how would you like to die? We will let you choose a way of execution. Although they let the victim free later, he experienced nervous breakdown completely.
Luckily in the world there are many initiatives undertaken which are connected with the postulate of prayer for Christians in Syria. Open Doors, one of the organizations dealing with persecutions all over the world, encourages to sign a special petition entitled ‘Save Syria’. As initiators say conflicts and persecutions endanger the survival of the Church in Syria. ‘So the Church is calling to God and is asking for help – we read in an appeal encouraging to sign the petition. – What can we do? Open Doors helps 8 thousand families to survive every month. And, what is important, we can pray and support the campaign actively. We believe that 500 thousand signatures will encourage the UNO to act’.
A tragic balance
The Church in Syria belongs to the most important Christian communities, its history has existed for two thousand years. After all, it was on the way to Damascus when St. Paul’s conversion took place. In the 20s of the last century, even 30 per cent of Christians were in Syria. Today it is estimated that there are 10 per cent of them from the population of 20 million.
Despite the small number, Christians have been elites of the Syrian society for a long time. It was undoubtedly conditioned by education and ethos, which were followed by these groups in the social life. Maybe this circumstance was the cause of the repressions among Christians. They became the victims of scandals and political fights among Muslim and political groups which were trying to gain the authority.
Today the persecutions touch the whole population of Syria. 2.5 million Syrians ran away abroad and at least 7 million of them were moved inland. Over 160 thousand people lost their life, including about 10 percent of children. A few hundred children were killed by snipers in order to take away hope from parents and willingness to live. One can see ‘cleansing’ of the country from Christians, done by Islamist fundamentalists. Will it be possible to stop this process? Surely, we are not, as Christians doomed to inactivity. The initiative of prayer for the Church in Syria in inscribed in a wider action of supporting Christians in the Holy Land.