13 March 2017
Late last week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar received a note from Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, along with a letter he’d written describing the situation his church in Syria is facing this Lent.
His note — written on the back of a postcard (shown above) depicting St. Paul and quoting from his letter to the Corinthians — said:
“Dear Msgr. John...Damascus church is going into Lent, time to find the peace way. Please pray for us. Thank you for all that CNEWA is doing to help.”
Please remember the men, women and children of Syria in your prayers as they continue living their own long Lent.
The text of the accompanying letter, translated from the original French, paints a grim and painful picture:
An Apocalyptic Scene
In six years of war, the face of Syria has changed quite a lot.
It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonized buildings, burned down houses, ghost neighborhoods and towns destroyed to the ground. More than 12 million Syrians, 50 percent of the population, are lacking a roof.
They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several million have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some of have attempting to leave and others are in line at embassies — nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?
A Shattered Family
The family — which fortifies church and nation and has saved the country in the past — is heavily shaken. Seldom is a complete family found. Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battle field. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.
Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilization, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled. How is it possible to follow a course without a family or with a broken family?
A Sacrificed Childhood
The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence. According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritize their physical wellbeing. Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. Academic failure is imposed by these overwhelming circumstances.
The centers of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?
Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support. The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one third of their clergy (27 priests). This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.
The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.
How do we fix this alarming hemorrhage?
Can we imagine a Church without priests?
Between Pain and Freedom
The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.
The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.
Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young couples.
Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?
This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.
This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful who are in distress, to lead the way towards Christ resurrected. Christ, light of the world, who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus