SYRIA: Sustaining faith amid the fighting
By John Newton and Maria Lozano
A tank stands outside a church in Syria
A priest in Syria has spoken about the challenges the Church faces ministering to the faithful caught up in the conflict – many of whom are among one million internally displaced persons.
The priest told Aid to the Church in Need: “[The] talk is of more than a million inland refugees wandering from one city district and from one area of the country to another.
“Their situation is precarious. They don’t know how long they can stay there. Many are terrified of returning to their homes.”
He described how Christian bodies are taking the initiative in finding ways to help those who have been displaced.
The priest said: “The various Church aid organisations are making great efforts to find money to restore some dignity to these people, to rent houses.”
The priest, based in Damascus, paid tribute to the work being done to help those caught up in the conflict.
He said: “My brothers – priests and those in [religious] orders – are doing extremely important work.
“Their presence is a source of comfort and spiritual nourishment for those suffering.”
The priest in Syria described how basic pastoral work had taken on added significance during the current conflicts.
He said: “In the situation we’re currently experiencing it becomes clear that religion is by no means something archaic, obsolete or simply a private matter, as we’re so often told.
“The people can do nothing – they cannot bring about political changes. But they need spiritual support which will restore peace in their hearts.
“We must nourish faith and hope, even if a bomb explosion induces fear in us.”
The priest described how, on 4th August,Damascus had experienced a number of bomb blasts – but that these did not deter him from his pastoral work.
He said: “On Saturday we suffered four bomb attacks. I was in another area of the city and wanted to return home when I heard the first bombs.
“Since it was impossible to find any kind of transport I had to cross the city on foot.
“I felt as though I was in a 'surreal’ world. Most of the shops are shut and only a few are still open – the people have to make a bit of money to survive. As I walked I repeatedly heard a unanimous wail: ‘Oh, my God’, a typical Arab expression.”
But he said the situation was far more difficult in Aleppo than Damascus, because the largest number of Christians lived there.
The cleric went on to underline the role that religious activities play in strengthening the faithful.
The priest said: “In my Sunday sermon I have endeavoured to ensure that the faithful who have come bearing great burdens can return home feeling a little lighter.
“It is important to remind people that we are not only physical substance. The spirit is much more than that.”
So far this year, Aid to the Church in Need has provided more than £230,000 in aid for Syria, of which more than £100,000 is emergency help.
This includes just under £40,000 for those trapped in the old city of Homs.