Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon Keith Fournier

12/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Here, in fact, the development of Christianity started

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.  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)

Syrian Christian children

Syrian Christian children


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

12/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Middle East

Keywords: Syria, Syrian, Wadi al Nasara, Homs, Valley of the Christians, Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Maronite, Christian persecution, Jihadis, anti-Catholic, Deacon Keith Fournier

TARTUS, Syria (Catholic Online) - The News Service of the Pontifical Mission Society, Agenzia Fides, recently reported that thousands of Christian refugees have 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. They are in need of our prayers and our solidarity. 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 is sseeking to overthrow it. These Christians have 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 has 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 is now occupied by rebel forces, many of whom share the militant Islamist views of the Muslims whom the Crusaders fought. They are engaged in fierce, bloody battles with troops loyal to Syrian Dictator/President Bashar al-Assad. From there they launch their relentless attacks.

The report insinuated that the Christians are "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 which is now 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 is charitable in its assessment that Christians are being killed unintentionally. Many other reports paint a much different picture. It is important 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 only make up approximately 10% of the population. They suffer intense persecution. A recent report in the British newspaper, The Independent entitled  The plight of Syria's Christians gives a different assessment. 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?" The international Catholic Agency Aid to the Church in Need helps persecuted and oppressed Christians around the world. They interviewed the Archbishop before the Holy Father's visit to Lebanon.  Their reporting is always reliable and they are a good resource for all of our readers concerned about our brethren in Syria and throughout the Middle East.

In October, the body of a beloved Greek Orthodox priest, Fr Fadi Haddad, 43, was found along the side of a road. He had been mutilated and 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."

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 seem just as hell bent on killing, maiming and inflicting evil upon the people of Syria. These rebel troops are increasingly controlled by Jihadists.

Evil knows no bounds. It must be exposed 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.  That is why, in the face of all that happens in the Middle East, I try to pay special attention to the plight of the Christians in that ancient land which has such a rich place in our Christian history.  I also try, as Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, 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.

Last month I wrote an article entitled "Trappist Nuns in Syria Challenge Us to Live as Messengers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace"  These heroic nuns intentionally moved from their motherhouse in Italy to this area in Syria to pray for peace and become a place of refuge for the suffering Church and others who seek peace. These holy and happy nuns of Syria make me proud to be a Catholic Christian. Their life reveals the beauty of the prophetic and timeless mission of the Catholic Church. In 2005 they left their beautiful Monastery of Valserena in Italy to found a monastery in Syria. They left a place of peace for a place plagued by the intrinsic evil of war.

They were inspired by the heroic witness of seven Cistercian monks of Tibhirine who were martyred in 1996 in Algeria. The witness of these heroic monks is chronicled in an extraordinary film entitled "Of Gods and Men". You can read more about the life and sacrificial service of these holy women here. I call the sisters  to the attention of my readers once again in order to encourage you to pray for them - and with them for the Christians of Syria. These nuns stand at the center of the Lord's profound plan for this beautiful land which is the home of some of our most inspiring descendants as Christians.

They explained their decision to leave Italy and travel to Syria in these words: "There is another important reason for choosing this land to build a new monastic foundation, even if, indeed, we were led to Syria by the providence. Here, in fact, the development of Christianity started. It shortly spread throughout Minor Asia , Greece, Rome and then Armenia, India up to China.Since (the) first centuries, the missionary action was borne and carried out by a very much lively monastic movement, arisen in the same time and independently as regards to the Egyptian one, more well-known. Saints like Aphrahat, Ephrem the Syrian, Simeon Stylites, Maron, Isaac of Nineveh and many others following their marks like John Chrysostom and John of Damascus, started a very rich spiritual tradition. We want to follow in the wake of them, starting from our Latin and Benedictine tradition, convinced about the fruitfulness coming from a deep exchange between the Eastern and Western heritage."
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 modernism, or in the East, which bleeds under the overt persecution from Jihadists and despots, the challenge we face is the same. 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. 


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Middle East

Turkey Prime Minister focuses on ISIS for weekend bombing in Ankara (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES) Watch

Image of A woman cries over a victim.


A deadly bombing surprised Ankara, Turkey this weekend and though no group has stepped up to claim responsibility for the incident, Turkey's Prime Minister revealed investigation officials have set their sights on ISIS. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Saturday's ... continue reading

In light of Palestinian knife attacks, Israeli politicians call citizens to arm themselves Watch

Image of Israeli gun range (Caliber 3).


Following rampant Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis, local politicians have requested permit-holding gun owners to carry their weapons on their hips to help protect citizens against terrorists. The decision has been met with both acceptance and criticisms. LOS ... continue reading

U.S. halts Syrian rebel training: $500,000 program deemed a failure Watch

Image of U.S. soldier teaches Syrian rebel which way to hold his weapon (U.S. Army).


The United States has decided to halt the $500 million program to train moderate rebels and has been labeled a failure with only the successful release fewer than 80 soldiers, several of whom have fled, been killed, or have relinquished their weapons to ISIS. LOS ... continue reading

Atrocities of Syrian president's brutal regime told in thousands of photographs Watch

Image of Grisly pictures of men, women, children, and elderly civilians were shown at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March 2015.


Thousands upon thousands of photographs depicting the evil machinations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime are now public. Prosecutors in Paris investigating al-Assad's crimes against humanity have seen 45,000 pictures taken by a photographer - going ... continue reading

Fat ISIS member called 'The Bulldozer' earns most feared executioner in ISIS Watch

Image of


The obese extremist jihadi executioner called "The Bulldozer" has beheaded unarmed men and amputated children as a member of the terror group's "Chopping Committee." The savage built a brutal reputation as one of ISIS's most horrendous executioners. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading

Syrian Civil War: A Timeline Watch

Image of What started the Syrian conflict and how did the U.S. get involved? (Anwar Amro/AFP/Ghetty Images).


Syria gained the world's attention for its humanitarian crisis after killing at least 300,000 of its people and displacing more than 10 million due to its bloody civil war. Refugees are tossed and turned in and outside their war-torn country and other nations join in ... continue reading

Syrian Army initiates major offensive with Russian help Watch

Image of


Backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and Russian air strikes, the Syrian army has recently announced a "vast offensive" against rebels, as NATO warns about Moscow's rising military activity in the country.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - With the launch of the ... continue reading

Saudi teen to be beheaded for teaching first aid to demonstrators in times of protests Watch

Image of


A second teenager will be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for participating in protests. The teen's sentence was reported only a few days following teenager's conviction sparked international outcry.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dawoud al-Marhoon was only ... continue reading

China to join Russian forces in the battle against ISIS Watch

Image of China joins forces with Russia to eradicate ISIS threats (AFP).


China is allegedly preparing to unleash its military forces in Syria and join forces with Vladimir Putin's army to destroy ISIS. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Russia has carried out a series of destructive and deadly airstrikes against the terrorist nation IS ... continue reading

Violence increases in Jerusalem's Old City as tensions between Palestinians and Israelis rise Watch

Image of Palestinian/Israeli tensions continue to rise (AP).


An 18-year-old Palestinian woman was allegedly shot by an Israeli man on Wednesday, after she stabbed him during a brawl in Jerusalem's Old City. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online)  - Both parties were taken to the hospital. While the man did not receive serious ... continue reading

All Middle East News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Romans 1:16-25
16 For I see no reason to be ashamed of the gospel; ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
2 day discourses of it to day, night to night hands ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 11:37-41
37 He had just finished speaking when a Pharisee ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 13th, 2015 Image

St. Edward the Confessor
October 13: Edward the Confessor was the son of King Ethelred III and his ... Read More