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The Truth About Syria: Persecution of Syrian Christians Cries Out For Prayer and Action

By Deacon Keith Fournier
June 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Christians preceded Muslims in calling Syria their home. They must not be forced to leave this ancient and holy land. We are living in a new missionary age. Whether in the West, where the memory of Christian influence fades under increasing persecution inflicted by rabid secularism and godless materialism and nihilism, or in the East, which bleeds under the overt persecution from Jihadists and despots, the challenge we face grows daily and cries out for both prayer and action. 

ALEPPO, Syria (Catholic Online) - A Reuters news report by Oliver Holmes and Alexander Dziadosz entitled Special Report: Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither is must reading for anyone who wants to know what is really happening in Syria as the current US Administration makes choices which may make the matter worse for Christians in that ancient biblical land.

The news out of Syria continues to shock the conscience of anyone who still has one. However, the solutions, at least from a geopolitical perspective, are not the ones being considered by the Obama Administration. There is no doubt that the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, is committing atrocities against the Syrian people.  The allegations are that they have used chemical weapons against their own people.

However, much of the opposition is composed of Islamists who may be far worse than the regime. In the crosshairs of this escalating violence are the Christians. In April, Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Aleppo, were kidnapped. They were traveling from the Turkish border to Aleppo, Syria. There has been a plague of kidnappings.

Among the strongest voices in the international outcry calling for the release of the Bishops is Pope Francis, a champion of peace who is also well aware of the dangers of militant, extremist versions of Islam. He referred to the kidnapping as "a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and its Christian community is living."

Like most of my readers, the continual images coming out of the Syrian tragedy trouble me greatly. The horrors inflicted upon men, women and children by a regime which seems to have no conscience continually fill our television, computer and smart phone screens with an almost surreal regularity.

However, the infliction of these wounds and the multiplication of murderous acts is not limited to the horrid acts perpetrated by current regime in Syria. Some who claim to be combating the regime seem just as hell bent on killing, maiming and inflicting evil upon the people of Syria, and, in particular, upon the Christians of that ancient land. Our Christian faith precedes in time and history the presence of Islam in Syria.

Evil like this knows no bounds. It must be exposed by truth and then opposed by the only force able to vanquish it, the love of the God whose heart breaks for the victims; the God who is fully revealed in the Sacred Heart of His beloved Son which was pierced by the soldiers spear on Golgotha's Hill. We MUST add the Christians in Syria to our daily, focused prayer. They are our brethren and need our prayer.  

They also need our solidarity and action. In the face of all that is happening in the Middle East, we must pay attention to the plight of the Christians in that ancient land which has such a rich place in our Christian history.  I try to call regular attention to the plight of our Christian brethren who suffer such intense persecution, precisely because they remain faithful to the ancient faith.

The situation facing Christians in Syria grows more urgent daily.

The News Service of the Pontifical Mission Society, Agenzia Fides, reported last year that thousands of Christian refugees fled the City of Homs and other areas in Syria as the conflict between government forces and Syrian rebels intensifies. These fierce, bloody battles have left these Christians extremely vulnerable. While they are in need of our prayers, our solidarity with them must lead us to pay attention to the responses to their needs and the foreign policy of the Obama Administration. They are our brethren.  

The Christian refugees were driven from their homes by the ongoing war and bloodshed in Syria between forces still loyal to the current regime and a combination of rebel forces which seeks to overthrow it. They joined the approximately 150,000 other Christians who are already living under virtual siege in the forty villages referred to as the "Valley of the Christians" in western Syria.

The Valley of Wadi al Nasara has been the site of a ferocious assault being waged by rebel militia against government forces. The rebel militia settled in a fortress named "Krak des Chevaliers". It was once used by the Crusaders in their battles with militant Muslims in centuries past.

This former Crusader castle was occupied by rebel forces who sahre the militant Islamist views of the Muslims whom the Crusaders fought. They engaged in fierce, bloody battles with troops loyal to Syrian Dictator/President Bashar al-Assad. From there they launched their relentless attacks.

The report insinuated that the Christians were collateral victims in the conflict. Fides reported, "The Christian civilians are "collateral victims" that are affected without any care! In recent days, a rain of fire hit the village of Howache, destroying several houses, killing three young Christians. And, in recent weeks, the Christian community in the valley had already counted nine other deaths."

A local Orthodox priest told Fides News Agency that, "Christians - - are very fragile and they want to be neutral, but today our valley is beset by violence and instability that confuses and frightens us. Violence covers and nullifies everything: we are not able to be instruments of dialogue and cohesion, as we want to be." The priest asked the warring parties to "not hit civilians gratuitously, to respect the neutrality of the Christians for their faith and identity, they want to be a factor of reconciliation."

The castle occupied by the rebel troops was built in the 11th century by a Muslim emir. It was later rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers, whom we know as the Knights of Malta. The Fides report was charitable in its assessment that Christians were being killed unintentionally. Many other reports painted a much different picture. I find them to be much more credible.Christians are being singled out for brutal treatment by Islamists in Syria. 

It is important for us to remember that Christians in Syria were there long before the Muslims. We have a two thousand year history in the Middle East. Syria was the home of many monks, mystics and missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of the most beautiful of the Patristic writings were penned by Syrian Saints and the Liturgy and hymnody of the early Church was enriched by the worship of those same wonderful saints.

Christians in Syria now make up less than 10% of the population. They are suffering  intense persecution. A 2012 report in the British newspaper, The Independent entitled, The plight of Syria's Christians gives a very different assessment than we read in the news in the United States.
The reporter, Kim Sengupta, interviewed the Haddads, a Christian family fleeing Homs:

"We left because they were trying to kill us," said 18-year-old Noura Haddad. She is now staying with relations in the town of Zahle in the Bekaa Valley: "They wanted to kill us because we were Christians. They were calling us Kaffirs, even little children saying these things. Those who were our neighbors turned against us. At the end, when we ran away, we went through balconies. We did not even dare go out on the street in front of our house. I've kept in touch with the few Christian friends left back home, but I cannot speak to my Muslim friends any more. I feel very sorry about that."

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Archbishop Issam John Darwish told the Independent that the increase of violence against Christians is the work of Jihadists who have joined the ranks of the rebel troops. He stated, "I have raised this with officials in the West, they must bring peace. The jihadis will not stop here, the war will spread to Europe. What will England be like in ten or 15 years?"

In October of 2012, the body of a beloved Greek Orthodox priest, Fr Fadi Haddad, 43, was found along the side of a road. He had been mutilated. His  eyes were gouged out. A young mother and close family friend told Aid to the Church in Need: "My family and friends very much feel under threat. People from the area have said that extremists have gone through the streets shouting 'Alawites to the grave, Christians to Beirut'.They want to kick us out. They say that if Christians refuse to leave they will end up in the grave like the Alawites.(a Shia sect)

"Nobody seems to care what is happening to us Christians in Syria. The government we had in the past was bad but at least we were safe. At least we could walk the streets. You'd never think you might be bombed by extremists. Not anymore. Now it's very scary. Now they are bombing churches. Look at what has happened to our churches in places like Aleppo and Homs. The extremists threaten us Christians when we want to celebrate major feasts like Christmas and Easter. They don't want us in the area at all."

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim presided over Fr Haddad's funeral Liturgy. He had ordained him to the Holy Priesthood in 1995. He called the slain priest a "martyr of reconciliation and harmony". He added: "We strongly condemn this brutal and barbaric act against civilians, the innocent and the men of God who strive to be apostles of peace." A bomb went off during Fr. Haddad's funeral. Now that tells you the plight of our Christian brethren in Syria.

Like most of my readers, the continual images coming out of the Syrian tragedy plague me. The horrors inflicted upon men, women and children by a regime which seems to have no conscience continually fill our television, computer and smart phone screens with an almost surreal regularity. However, the infliction of wounds and murderous behavior is not limited to the current regime in Syria. Some who claim to be combating the regime are just as hell bent on killing, maiming and inflicting evil upon the people of Syria. These rebel troops are increasingly controlled by Jihadists.

Christians preceded Muslims in calling Syria their home. They must not be forced to leave this ancient and holy land. We are living in a new missionary age. Whether in the West, where the memory of Christian influence fades under increasing persecution inflicted by rabid secularism and godless materialism and nihilism, or in the East, which bleeds under the overt persecution from Jihadists and despots, the challenge we face grows daily and cries out for both prayer and action. 

We are called to prophetically bear witness to the Truth as fully revealed in Jesus Christ. We are called to "bear one anothers burdens and fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2) As we evaluate the various conflicts in the Middle East it is vitally important to be informed by news sources which paint the full picture of what is happening. Catholic Online is committed to being one of those sources. 

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