The extraordinary migration of Christians in the Middle East over the last several years has been felt most dramatically in Syria, where the Christian population has been almost cut in half since the Arab Spring began in December 2010.
The brutal war that has racked the country for nearly seven years has taken a profound toll on cities, such as Homs and Aleppo and forced many to flee, literally running for their lives. Added to that has been the growing threat from Islamic extremist groups, such as ISIS, which have terrorized Christians and other minorities in the region. The exodus from Syria has sent them to government-held cities or to neighboring countries — notably, Jordan and Lebanon.
The loss of Christians in Syria carries a particular poignancy because Syria is a true cradle of the faith. St. Paul famously traveled to Damascus, intent on persecuting Christians, and it was on that journey that he underwent his conversion. After the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70, the Syrian city of Antioch — where the followers of Jesus were first known as “Christians” — became the center of Christian thought in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.
The church’s roots in Syria clearly run deep. It remains up to the local communities and parishes and, increasingly, the outside world to keep those roots alive until stability — and the displaced Christian population — can hopefully return.