Syria: the long Calvary of Christians

May 20, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Archbishop Nassar, Maronite archbishop of Damascus, reported on April 13 the crucifying dilemma of the Syrian Christians, "forced to choose between two bitter chalices: death or exile", which is "another, [slower] way to die"...

Bishop Antoine Audo, S. J., Chaldean bishop of Alep and president of Caritas Syria, spoke to the news agency Fides on April 10, of the precarious situation of the inhabitants of Alep, who can be seen in the streets with plastic bags, searching everywhere for a bit of food. Hundreds of Catholic families have had to leave the Cheikh Maksoud quarter after the arrival of the rebel militias in early April. Many streets are closed, unusable, making visits to the sick and the dying difficult. Most of the doctors were forced with threats to flee, and the fate of two priests, an Armenian Catholic and a Greek Orthodox, kidnapped by armed men two months ago on the road between Alep and Damascus, is still unknown, explained Bishop Audo.

The Cheikh Maksoud quarter, situated on a hill dominating Alep, added Fr. David Fernandez, a missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, is a strategic sector for those who wish to take over the city center where the government buildings are located. Some of the city-center streets are already closed and "no one can travel on them anymore because snipers fire on any moving thing." In Cheikh Maksoud, Christians used to make up the majority of the population. In the last few years, the Kurdish population became the majority, but there remained many Christian families, grouped around the Armenian-Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches..

Archbishop Samir Nassar, Maronite archbishop of Damascus, reported on April 13 the crucifying dilemma of the Syrian Christians, "forced to choose between two bitter chalices: death or exile", which is "another, [slower] way to die." In the neighboring countries, where the number of refugees is constantly increasing, the situation is more and more critical.

The High Police Precinct for the refugees of the United Nations (HCR) has "sounded the alarm". The operations to help Syrian refugees are coming to an end for lack of sufficient funds. In the city, there are bombings, trapped cars, starvation, and a lack of medication and care. "233 hospitals have been closed and the doctors are fleeing," explained the Archbishop of Damascus. The parishes have "become a wailing wall to which the Christians turn every day to find protection and help in their attempts to obtain a visa to leave."

"The indifference and silence of the international community before their long, sad Calvary" is oppressing for the Syrian Christians, who, "abandoned," find themselves "condemned to death and unable to flee," continued the prelate. "The consulates have been closed for a year and a half." The more wealthy have been able to leave, but the poorer Christians do not understand why they must die in a senseless war. "Today, the Church is the only resource for these shipwrecked souls. (…) But the pastors, too, are confronted with a dilemma: to tell their faithful to stay is to condemn them to death; but helping them leave means emptying the Biblical Land of its last faithful Christians," concluded Archbishop Nassar.

The Syrian Christians proclaimed Saturday, May 11, a day of prayer to "beg God to grant mercy to Syria and to put an end to the violence," asking all to "limit themselves to local reunions throughout the country, in homes, meeting places, and churches," because of the high risks of traveling in the combat zones.

Fr. David Fernandez, present in Alep, explained to the agency Fides that:

the population was waiting with anguish for the month of May, to ask Mary for the grace of peace. We celebrate Mass every afternoon with the refugees and those who are able to come and we recite the Holy Rosary for this intention. Everyone sings the litany and the final hymn to the Virgin with great emotion. They ask Mary for the gift of peace, turning to her as the only one who can still help them to keep hope alive in the terrible situation that we are living through."

(Sources: apic/fides/afp—DICI no. 275, 5-17-2013).