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Christians in Middle East Losing Everything Except Christ

23 Dec 2014 – By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Violence, fear and poverty have stripped Christians in the Middle East of everything except Christ, said a number of church leaders there.

“It will be a Christmas where everything is gone except hope and faith. It is all we have left and that is a lot — Jesus, our Savior,” said Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the apostolic vicar of the Latin-rite Vicariate of Aleppo, Syria.

Their faith in God’s permanent presence is what offers them “that joy that war and violence tear away from us every day,” he told the Italian bishops’ news agency, SIR, on 22 December.

Bishop Khazen and other church leaders in the Middle East explained how Christian communities were facing the continued dangers and finding strength in the days before Christmas.

Despite the lack of many basic necessities, Bishop Khazen said Syrians were gathering presents, sweets and candies for the children so they could live “an atmosphere of celebration despite the violence that surrounds them.”

The bishop’s parish church of St. Francis was celebrating a novena of evening prayers in preparation for Christmas. Christians of all denominations were attending, he said.

Even though there had been 180,000 Christians in Aleppo before the war, and now there are less than half that number, “Our churches are full every day,” he said. “Coming together to pray brings us comfort and gives us courage to go on.”

Bishop Khazen said it is so moving to see so many orbs of light bobbing their way along the dark streets as people come by foot to the church, carrying their hand-crank flashlights; each light gives silent testimony to their continued presence, he said.

He also said residents have been packing up and moving constantly from one neighborhood to another, trying to find a safer area to stay in and leaving behind their damaged homes and property unprotected.

All basic necessities, including gas and heating fuel, are scarce; electricity is available only two hours a day, he added. There are plenty of medicines, he said, thanks to the “heroic work” of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

The Christian communities are “on the frontlines,” he said, in helping everyone in need, whether they be Muslim or Christian, since “hunger makes no distinction.”

When asked if there were any security concerns for the upcoming Mass on Christmas Eve, Bishop Khazen said, “In Aleppo, we are never safe anywhere — on the street, at home, in church, therefore, we try to live normally.”

Part of trying to live normally means Christians of every denomination defy the electrical outages and the danger of gunfire and mortar to head to the Church of St. Francis for evening prayers, he said, and for singing Christmas carols in different churches throughout the city.

“Singing transmits the peace and hope that must never die,” he said.

The electrical outages also mean that Nativity scenes and Christmas trees in people’s homes and churches are dark.

“We are waiting for the true light, the only one that can illuminate the shadows of the moment,” with the birth of Jesus, he said.

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Tags: Refugees Middle East Christians War Relief Hunger