Syrian Christians find lives 'paralyzed' by wartime chaos

Only peace can end the suffering of Syria's Christian refugees, say local Christian leaders who emphasize the need to give refugees hope alongside material support.

"It is chaos, it is violence, it is blood, it is death. Life has been paralyzed. We have lost everything," Archbishop Theophile Georges Kassab of Homs told Aid to the Church in Need. "What can I tell you more? Only one thing, in the name of the majority: enough, enough, enough!"

"Now, before anything, our people need love and devotion, the archbishop added. "They need material support as well. They need, really, everything, because they have left everything."

In a recent video report, Aid to the Church in Need focuses on the sufferings of Christians since the conflict between rebels and the Syrian government began more than two years ago. Over 100,000 have died and millions have fled their homes as refugees, many leaving the country.

Twenty-five percent of Syrian Christians have been displaced or have left the country since the conflict began, the agency says.

A father and former businessman who is now a refugee in Lebanon said that what he saw one day while taking his son home from school was a turning point.

"There were bodies on the street. It was almost impossible to get back home," he said. "That is when I decided to leave Syria and take my family to a safe place."

Another refugee from the western Syrian city of Al-Qusayr said that the Christian minority lived in harmony with the wider community until the rebels arrived and the fighting began.

"One day, they came to our house and asked us to leave, threatening us that if we didn't they would kill us," he said.

One Christian man, who fled with his family to Beirut, said he noticed his friends acting differently toward him as the crisis escalated.

"The problem is, the Christians, in the eyes of the opposition, are on the side of the regime. Conversely, in the eyes of the regime, we are blamed for not taking sides," he said. "The truth is, we don't want to take sides. The Christians simply want peace for Syria."

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East Projects for Aid to the Church in Need, said the situation is "so complicated."

"Nobody would like to say there is a civil war," he explained. "The opposition wants to say that it is fighting for democracy. The government is saying that they are fighting with terrorists, because there are so many terrorist acts over there."

The conflict also has an international impact, and Fr. Halemba described it as "a proxy war" in which "the poor civilian people are paying a very, very high cost."

In addition, conflict in the war-torn city of Homs has seriously affected the Christian community there.

Fr. Halemba explained that the city once had a "beautiful tradition of Christians" who brought their wisdom, business and peace.

"They were highly respected, always," he said, but this has changed.

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Now, he warned, "Christians are being targeted. They are being kidnapped. They are being held for incredible ransoms you can never imagine to pay."

"They suffer and they weep every single day. They are asking very hard questions, as Christians: 'Why are we suffering? We are good people. We are not violent people. Is God punishing us? For what?'"

"We have to help find an answer to that," the priest said, urging others around the world to think about Syria's future.

"We have to give them hope."

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