One of Syria’s leading clerics Archbishop Samir Nassar in his pre-Christmas letter spoke of the suicidal choice which Christians in the Middle East face daily. He points out the reality of why young people and especially Syria’s young men are leaving. He speaks of the exodus of Middle Eastern Christians and a Church without young people much of which is under control of Islamist groups like ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
The Letter reads…
The Exodus of Middle Eastern Christians
Since 2003 (the Iraq war) and especially since 2011 (Arab Spring) the exodus of Christians from the east increases. Some reports give only ten years for the page to turn concerning Christianity in the Middle East. This seems to be a pessimistic view, but observed experience shows an alarming and growing emigration.
The subject of daily discussions is how to leave. Go anywhere and in any way, even if it means taking dangerous risks. A family just sent their twelve-year-old son away with a caravan of fugitives. A twelve-year-old child has not returned.
Will he later be able to invite his family to join him? Will he find a safe place? Given the military stalemate, an increasingly distant peace, and to avoid Military Service, in order to escape an absurd war that has lasted too long, young people are the greatest number of those who leave.
What is the future a Church without young people?
It is the fatal end of apostolic Christianity in a Biblical Land which becomes a hostage of violence and intolerance in the name of a radical faith that neither supports pluralism nor accepts differences.
Envisioning the Future
How can the Church of the Middle East envision the future? Several paths are:
a) Follow the faithful in the countries of the Diaspora to help them to keep their faith of origin.
b) Establish alliances between minorities to defend their citizens’ rights against the domination of an ‘intolerant’ Islam.
c) Seek guarantees of protection from the ruling authorities.
d) Accept living under the shadow of Islam and continue a life full of difficulties and challenges.
The Christians of the East face an almost suicidal choice. Living under the shadow of Islam remains a choice quite difficult to assume. Living in the shadow of Islam requires a return to the early centuries of the Church, which highlights the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth. This dynamism is favoured by the Charter of the Year of Mercy announced by the Francis Pope. Showing the merciful face of Christ gives vitality to the witness to the Gospel.
The social committee members who visit Muslim prisoners in Syria highlights the Good Samaritan at the heart of people in distress. This is a providential way, a challenge that enables the continuation of the Mission and the joy of the Divine Child.
BON NOEL 2015
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus