A letter from a Syrian Catholic exposes the ravages of Modernism in his country.
Image theme: "...the devil, who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey." (1 Peter 5:8)
The bodily persecution of Middle Eastern Catholics is terrible indeed. And yet, Christ teaches us that those who persecute the soul are even worse:
And there is no need to fear those who kill the body, but have no means of killing the soul; fear him more, who has the power to ruin body and soul in hell." (Matt. 10:28—see also Luke 12:4-5)
The letter of a Syrian to a French friend, bears out this truth by showing how the internal enemy of Modernism is an even greater danger to the souls of persecuted Catholics in the Middle East.
This letter was first published in the November 2014 issue of the French bulletin, La Lettre de JASPA (Association St. Pierre d'Antioche et de tout l'Orient), and contains some important insights into the dreadful state of affairs of the Catholic Church in Syria.
Letter from a Christian in Syria
Damascus, October 2014
During your latest visit, you asked us to put our thoughts in writing. For many years, you have devoted yourself to showing our French friends how the most ancient Christianity of the East is dangerously threatened in the flesh and in its very existence. But will you dare to tell them today the terrible truth and to speak of the danger for our souls? For it is not so much the Christians that are being assassinated in Syria; it is their faith.
Contrary to popular opinion, we believe that the Sunnite Muslims who behead our brothers and devour their hearts are in fact less deadly for our Christianity than a Church that has ceased to transmit the Faith to us. And yet, that is the dramatic truth: the proportion of practicing Catholics is somewhere between 20 and 30%.
Our clergy is disappearing. I am not talking about the priests who have abandoned their flock to seek shelter in America or Europe; I am talking about the number of vocations, which are becoming seriously rare. Can we excuse those who remain among us, even as we deplore the fact that they have not received any serious formation on the doctrinal, spiritual and even moral levels? And to prove it, take the fact that—on the pretext that the faithful would have more trust in a married clergy than in a celibate clergy, (it is all too easy, alas, to guess why)—it only took a few months to start ordaining married men priests. Shall I confide to you that this practice satisfies neither their wives nor their communities, who both complain of their lack of availability, since in most cases, the priest has to practice a profession in order to support his family?
Since the '70's, the secular clergy in the Middle East has scarcely received a better formation. Not to mention the "monks", who are monastic only in name, living in luxurious monasteries where there are often more servants than religious, and where the religious are free in their acts and under no control. It is only too easy to imagine the wanderings of a liberty left to the control of each individual, and the habitual scandals for the weak in our narrow East, where everyone takes pleasure in spying on and judging the priests in order to comfort their own consciences.
But let me come back to Syria. What would be the point of distinguishing between a hierarchy completely preoccupied with money, whose priests worry only about feeding the poor, without ever giving them the bread of the Word, and those who care about neither and often scarcely even set a good example?
The obvious reality today is this: that the Christians have no more trust in their priests than their priests have in their hierarchy. And the concrete consequence is dramatic: in the face of the indescribable sufferings they have been enduring since the beginning of the conflicts, more and more Christians in Syria have come to declare: "God does not exist!"
With the war that has lasted for three years, with its trail of sufferings, daily deaths, the surprise of the car trapped in the streets or the shell that falls from the sky into your heart, the fear in which everyone is living could be appeased in the comfort of prayer. But no one teaches us to pray anymore ...except for the success of the army and the end of the war.
Did you know, dear friend, that there is an impressive number of Muslims (Sunnites, Shiites and Druzes) who desire with all the heart to be baptized—even, as is sometimes permitted, in secret—but who find no priest to grant their request and take the time to instruct them? Not so much out of fear of the family's vengeance on the neophyte as out of fear for himself if the word got out. Have 400 years of Ottoman occupation left such a mark upon us that we are in the habit of abstaining from any proselytism? It is heart-rending.
With their dollars, their poisonous bibles that they distribute freely and their skillful indoctrination, the Protestant sects enjoy a marked success among the refugees who are aided by their Church. But our Catholic priests never warn us against them, since what matters to them is not the pride of belonging to one Church rather than to another, but rather the feeling of being a "Christian among other Christians". Nor does anyone warn our brothers against the false prophets that are everywhere today and do so much damage even among the clergy. We need France to send us missionaries...
In Damascus we witness extraordinary things, such as the Sunnite Grand Mufti of the Umeyyan Mosque, Cheikh Knai, and other important Muslim dignitaries, who come to Soufanieh to pray to the Virgin Mary every year on the anniversary of her miraculous intervention. No one obliges them to recite the Our Father with a rosary around their necks, showing courage that many priests and religious could envy...
On the pretext that the Orthodox do not practice individual confession—except on exception—, Catholics have abandoned the practice. And today, all the faithful are invited to "participate in the Lord's meal" at every Mass, without ever being reminded of the existence or the necessity of confession. Even for our children, the truths of our Faith are no longer taught. They used to teach us that receiving Communion when we are not in the state of grace was a dangerous practice for our soul, but today, they only speak of confession as a "Western", outdated custom. I was astounded to learn that in the Latin Church, one can receive the most holy Body of Our Lord in the hand, which is not allowed in the East.
When a video shows our president Bachar el-Assad turning his back on the ambassador of Israel at Pope John Paul II's funeral, we are proud of him. But when we see the picture of Pope Francis kissing the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem's hand, it is a dagger through our heart.
All this goes to explain, dear friend, that despite the courage that often hides our daily fear, the moral despair and the spiritual desertion of the Arabian Christians of Syria is even more poignant than their material distress.
So when you leave us to go back to your country, please, tell your Christian brothers in France that the only weapon we need is the Truth. Above all, tell them how much we need their prayers to keep the Faith, simply because we wish our children to be able to serve the Lord with a tranquil heart.
Your much-obliged friend.
Milad K., retired teacher.