Syrian war Especially hard on
Christians, Priest notesSyrian
refugees in February 2013 take shelter in El Kaa village, Baalbek-Hermel state,
Lebanon, close to the Syrian border. Credit: Aid To the Church in Need.Damascus, Syria, (EWTN News)̣̣:
Syrian civil war, which has now begun its third year, has “totally destroyed” a
quarter of the country with local Christians particularly hard hit by the
fighting, says a missionary priest.
Christians are suffering so much. 'Please don't
forget us' is a very clear message,” Father Andrzej Halemba, a Polish diocesan
priest who is Aid to the Church in Need's projects coordinator for the Middle
East, told EWTN News March 21.
The Syrian conflict marked its second anniversary
last week. On March 15, 2011, demonstrations sprang up nationwide, protesting
the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to
deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence
has morphed into a civil war.
United Nation's estimates show that 70,000 people
have been killed in the conflict. More than 1 million refugees have flooded into
Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, and inside Syria another estimated 2.5
million are internally displaced.
It's an incredible tragedy of the nation, and
especially of Christians,” said Fr. Halemba, who has been to Lebanon to help
refugees who have fled Syria.
The priest said that Christians in Syria live in
places “where the violence is strongest,” and so “they suffer most.” Many live
in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, all of which are cities strongly contested for by
the government and the rebels.
They have to run away, they suffer from fighting,
and they can't come back.”
Fr. Halemba recounted that recently fighting had
died down in Homs and so several families returned, but they found their homes
empty, “completely robbed; there is nothing there but their houses.”
Aid to the Church in Need is doing what it can for
refugees in Lebanon “just to help them survive,” said Fr. Halemba. In the severe
winter, most were able to bring only a suitcase full of belongings, and both
housing and the fuel to heat it has become very expensive in Lebanon.
The Christians who left Syria...they have peace,
but they have no means of surviving in Lebanon.”
The number of refugees in Lebanon has swelled the
country's population by eight percent in the past two years. There are not
enough jobs to support them all, and so “they have no future in Lebanon.”
Fr. Halemba fears that the violence in Syria will
spread to neighboring countries and that “Syria could be like Somalia.”
If they remove Assad by force, by invasion, we
will have trouble in Syria for years to come. There will be no peace, and this
will spill over to Lebanon, and Jordan.”
For Lebanon this would be “a terrible disaster,”
he said, as the country already “suffered so much” during its own civil war,
which lasted from 1975 to 1990.
Fr. Halemba said that Aid to the Church in Need is
helping refugees through Lebanese dioceses and Caritas. The aid organization
helps those who have remained in Syria to buy bread, medicine, and fuel, and
works with the Jesuits to feed and school children who have fled to the Valley
The war is leading to “not only violence in
society but in the families,” Fr. Halemba cautioned. There is violence between
spouses, and more and more couples, Christian and Muslim, are seeking divorce.
“There are a lot of problems on this level as well.”
Aid to the Church in Need is concerned that the
situation of Christians in Syria is not unlike their situation throughout the
Edward Clancy, the charity's director of
evangelization and outreach, said that Benedict XVI urged that one of the
group's two main focuses be the maintenance of a Christian presence in the
One of the things universal in my travels in
Islamic world, is that the Christian influence is always the influence for
peace,” he said to EWTN News.
He recounted that an Iraqi bishop told him at
World Youth Day in Madrid that while he was glad his youth could see millions of
young people alive in their faith, he feared they might not return to Iraq, and
that the region will become a “Christian wasteland” which is “barren of any
In the ten years since the invasion of Iraq, the
country's Christian population has plummeted from 1.5 million to at most
I've always likened Christian presence, in any of
these communities where they're a minority,” Clancy said, “to the mortar that
holds bricks together. Because even though they're not the predominance of the
population, they act as both the cohesive and stabilizing force of the
Syrian Christians “always were balancing the
tensions” in the nation, said Fr. Halemba. “They were very much appreciated” and
could get along with each of the Muslim sects there. “They gave so much to the
The pressure put on Christians throughout the
Middle East, Fr. Halemba said, is “incredible,” even though “the Christians are
bridges” among Muslim groups.
<p align="justify">Christian refugees need not only material, but
spiritual support, Fr. Halemba noted.
“In such a crisis, it's not only food that's
important. The trauma they go through, they ask 'why are we punished by
“They question their own faith, and so we have to
take care of the spiritual life as well.”
This, he said, is why Aid to the Church in Need
has “chaplains who go, and Sisters who go and counsel them. They give them food,
but give them also spiritual support, which is extremely important in this