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Syria

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A funeral procession for some of those killed in the Christian towns of Saddad and Haffar

Villages besieged and massacred; believers attacked and murdered; church leaders kidnapped; women and girls raped and forced into marriage and children traumatised: the lives of our brothers and sisters in war-ravaged Syria are being torn apart. What began as a people’s revolution in March 2011 is now dominated by Islamists fighting for an Islamic state; they particularly target Christians, who now have few safe havens left.

In one particularly harrowing incident, the Christian towns of Saddad and Haffar were besieged in October 2013. By the time government forces liberated the area, 46 people had been killed, 3,000 people had been used as human shields and 2,500 families had fled. Many of the rebels’ abuses, including killing civilians and targeting churches, have been condemned as war crimes. Maaloula, an historic Christian village, was another target of a deadly invasion, in September 2013, and was attacked again in December.

Many of our brothers and sisters are engulfed by an ongoing humanitarian crisis. For example, areas of Aleppo that are home to around 400,000 Christians have been besieged by the rebels for months. Many Christians have become malnourished owing to shortages and skyrocketing prices of food and other essentials. Access to water, electricity and communications is very limited.

It is perhaps the traumatised children of Christian families who are suffering most acutely; some have lost one or both parents; many are in desperate need, and rebel forces have even targeted Christian schools.

Syria used to be one of the easiest places in the Arab world to be a Christian. Until early 2011, its churches were large (about 10% of the population), and Christians were respected by the Muslim majority. They were allowed to worship and practise their faith without much official interference.

But now, with an estimated 600,000 Christians having fled the country or lost their lives as a result of the civil war, Syrian Christian leaders are concerned that the Church may be wiped out altogether, despite its long history. “I am not very optimistic that our Christian community will survive,” said one.

The Church has existed in Syria since Biblical times. In the book of Acts it was on the road to Damascus, capital of today’s Syria, that Saul was stopped short in his mission to destroy the early Church. The risen Christ asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). It was in Damascus that Saul regained his sight after being struck blind, and it was here that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, was baptised and began his ministry as an apostle.

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