Horror and Hope for Christians in Syria

News: World News
by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 24, 2019   

New Damascas archbishop brings hope in midst of Islamic oppression

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DAMASCUS, Syria (ChurchMilitant.com) - The horrific civil war that has torn apart Syria, claiming an estimated half-million lives, has also taken the lives of thousands of Christians.

A sliver of hope lives in the person of a new Damascus archbishop eager to give hope to his tired faithful. Syriac Catholic Abp. John Jihad Battah will be installed as archbishop this Sunday, July 28.

The 63-year-old served in Lebanon for the last eight years as bishop for the patriarchal diocese of Beirut and previously in Rome for seven years.

Syria has been wracked by a bloody civil war for eight years. The remaining faithful in Damascus are "so tired," the new archbishop said.

I want to help the people, to give them hope to stay in their country.

The archbishop is returning to the city of his birth with enthusiasm.

"I want to help the people, to give them hope to stay in their country," he said.

"In all my missions, in Italy, in Lebanon, I was obeying the call of the church," the archbishop said. "This is the first time I feel great joy and happiness in a new mission, to be going back to Syria."

Damascus did not experience a mass exodus like in war-torn dioceses such as Aleppo. In the Syriac Catholic archdiocese of Damascus, there are about 1,000 families, compared to about 1,200 families before the war, the archbishop said.


However, the sanctions against Syria are taking a toll on the Syrian people.

"It's leading people to leave the country to search for a better future," he stressed.

"The economic situation is very bad. Everyone is in need now," he said.

The cost of basic necessities has skyrocketed, and medicine is very expensive.

"People are dying from lack of medicine," he continued.

The sanctions campaign, applied to Syria to which Abp. Battah refers is one of the most comprehensive ever implemented.

Sanctions were imposed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, the United Kingdom's HM Treasury, the European Union, the United Nations and several other regulatory entities in response to the Syrian government's support of international terrorism and violations against democratic and human rights in the country.

Since first being implemented, the sanctions have been strengthened several times due to escalating violence in the region.

Currently imposed sanctions include trade restrictions, travel bans and asset freezes on certain Syrian officials, as well as a ban on Syrian investment by U.S. persons.

Despite the territorial defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group in March, attacks against Syrian Christians continue. Father Safaa Habash of Christ the King Syriac Catholic Church (المسيح الكنيسة الملك السريان الكاثوليك) in Troy, Michigan, told Church Militant about a car bomb attack that occurred two weeks ago outside a church in a Christian neighborhood in the city of Qamishli in northeast Syria.

IS took credit for the bombing which Syrian state television said wounded 11 people and damaged several cars.

The Christian community in Syria is one of the oldest in the world, stretching back nearly 2,000 years when St. Paul established a church at Antioch.

The term "Christian" originated in Syria. According to Acts of the Apostles, "So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

There are many ancient sites in Syria sacred to Christians. Among these is the city of Damascus, the village of Maalula (where residents still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus) and the Church of St. Simeon outside of Aleppo.

Since the beginning of the civil war, Christians in Syria have come under increasing threat, especially from IS. There are thought to be nearly 700,000 Christian refugees displaced by the fighting and Syria has risen to no. 4 on the World Watch Rank for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors UK, an organization that monitors persecution of Christians worldwide.

With the infiltration of the Islamic State, Christians are met with the command, 'convert [to Islam] or die.'

Open Doors also published an article called "Christian Persecution in Syria: 'Convert to Islam or Die'" which reported,

With the infiltration of the Islamic State, Christians are met with the command, "convert [to Islam] or die."

The goal of this Islamic extremist group is to create a broader Islamic caliphate, and Christianity stands in direct opposition to that. Old churches are being torched and burned down. Christians are being beheaded, kidnapped and tortured.

U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Syria. Travel to Syria is banned due to terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. According to USDS, no part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare, shelling, and aerial bombardment pose significant risk of death or serious injury.

"The most important thing is to take care of the people," Abp. Battah has said of his new position.

The prelate has chosen the words of St. Luke for his motto: "I am among you as the one who serves" (Luke 22:27).

Archbishop Battah embodies a deep hope for many Catholics in Syria ― and walks the same road St. Paul took when he was famously knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus nearly 2,000 years ago.

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