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The Other Victims of the War in Syria: Christians Tortured, Terrorized, Killed and Driven From Their Ancient Home
By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 16th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
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)
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."
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