In September 2015 I was privileged to meet the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus Samir Nassar during the World Meeting of Families.
I was deeply moved by his accounts of the bitter suffering of the Syrian people during the relentless war, then almost 2 years ago.
Now with an eyewitness record of a suffering people who have endured longer now than the Second World War itself, I want to share with you his words which he posted to me personally last week.
Remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria; never forgetting that it was en route to Damascus that Saul was converted by Christ so must we pray for such deep conversion and an end to all bloodshed.
A VERY BITTER LENT
1) 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 twelve millions Syrians, 50% 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 have drowned 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?
2) 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 battlefield. 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 course without a family or with a broken family?
3) 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. These overwhelming circumstances impose academic failure.
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?
4) Threatened Parishes – 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?
5) 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 fiancés.
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 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
Translated from French by Sarah Sierra and Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp