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Syrian Christians are caught in 'demonic conflict'
"The worst thing for me was to hear that more children than women have been killed in the conflict. This is often done deliberately, to take the last hope away from the parents. This shows just how demonic this conflict really is."
By Oliver Maksan
NEW YORK—From April 2015 onward, there has been nothing bad news for Syrian Christians, who most recently saw the city of Idlib fall to ISIS, which is today even threatening Aleppo.
“The morale of the people is completely shattered,” said Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East desk for international charity Aid to the Church in Need. He just returned from a fact-finding mission in Syria.
Making matters worse, he said is that “Lebanon has practically closed its borders to Syrian refugees since the beginning of the year.
“This has hit Christians especially hard because they have a difficult time of it in other countries in the region. Lebanon was their safe haven of choice. They now feel trapped.”
Still, Halemba said, in Maaloula, but also in Yabroud or Homs “there is a real drive to rebuild. The people are returning to places that have been freed by the Syrian government and are rebuilding the homes and churches that were destroyed. Despite all the years of war there is still so much energy and potential.”
The priest said that his organization has spent more than $2M to help Syrian Christians in 2015, working through the local Churches. He explained: “Decisive for us is helping the Christians so that they can remain in Syria. The affluent have already left. The poor have remained. They earn no or only low wages. Prices, however, are high. This makes the people dependent on support from the Church.”
Strikingly, Father Halemba continued, “the priests go the people and not the other way around. I was able to observe this in Marmarita. Many of Aleppo’s Christians have found refuge in this Christian town. It is full to bursting. Rents have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, the
Father Halemba reported that since 2011, the start of Syrian civil war, rour million people have already left the country, including 15,000 doctors; half of all the schools are closed. “It has been estimated that more people have died in this war from a lack of health care than through fighting,” said the priest, adding that “some church people say that this has been the cause of more than 350,000 deaths—in addition to 220,000 killed in the fighting.”
“The worst thing for me was to hear that more children than women have been killed in the conflict. This is often done deliberately, to take the last hope away from the parents. This shows just how demonic this conflict really is,” the priest said.
Meanwhile, in Aleppo, the city’s Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart said that “we are confronting one of the biggest challenges of our 2000-year history. We will fight with all our strength and act with all available means to give our people reasons to stay and not to leave.
“We know that this action will be demanding and very hard. Nevertheless, we believe in God and we are convinced that our beloved Lord Jesus is present in his Church and will never abandon us in our hardship.”
Fresh damage to church in Aleppo; photo courtesy of Melkite Archdiocese of Aleppo