Syrian bishop cries out: 'Help my people stay'
"We are strong in our faith, rooted in our history. We have been here for 2000 years. We refuse to go!"
Iraq and Syria are in turmoil. In Iraq, Islamic radicals of
the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are threatening to plunge the
country back into civil war. In Syria, a ruthless regime is fighting a variety
of opposition groups in a civil war that already has left more than 160,000
dead, most of them civilians.
Caught in a brutal fight between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Iraqi
and Syrian Christians increasingly face persecution at the hand of Jihadists
who have submitted to them to kidnappings, gruesome violence, outright killings
and the imposition of protection ‘tax.’
As a result, thousands
of Christians in both nations have become homeless in their own countries and
many have fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey—with few prospects of returning
home anytime soon, if at all. Maronite, Chaldean and Melkite Church leaders are
agonizing over the prospect of the disappearance of their flock, their lands
are robbed of an ancient heritage.
These prelates plead with Western Churches and governments
for help, but they make once thing crystal clear: they are firmly opposed to
policies that fast track the emigration of displaced Christians to Western
countries. That, they know, is a sure recipe for these refugees never to return
home and face the inevitable hardship of rebuilding their lives, quite
literally, from the rubble of destroyed homes and livelihoods.
Yet, the Christian patrimony of the Middle East must be
protected at all costs. “We are strong in our faith, rooted in our history. We
have been here for 2000 years. We refuse to go!” That is the message proclaimed
by Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman, who heads the Eparchy of Latakia, Syria. He is
on a mission to get the support of Catholics in the US and Europe to help
provide his people with the means to return home, make a new start, or simply
Though he acknowledges that “radical Islamists are hunting
down everything that belongs to the cross,” he refuses to leave and urges his
flock to stay with him and make the most of remaining pockets of relative peace
in Syria. “In this land we lack everything today, but we have the one thing
that matters, the treasure hidden in the field: our faith,” he says
The bishop desperately needs the funds that will provide his
people with means of livelihood. “Help
us to sanctify our land, this earth, with the work of our hands,” the bishop
says. Staying home is these Christians’ birthright and their presence is a
blessing for all the people of Syria: “We cannot allow the land to be without Christians, because the Christian
presence helps Muslims to be moderate,“ says the bishop, adding that “the environment of Islam
benefits from the engagement of the Christian faith, which ensures, of course,
also our own openness with regard to the Muslim world.“
peacemakers.“Help us stay,“ Bishop Sleman cries out.
With photograph of Bishop Elias Sleman (© ACN)