Aleppo, Syria, Jul 24, 2015 / 05:07 am
With half of Syria's population displaced due to its ongoing civil war, Church leaders in the country are seeking to send a message of hope and support for the persecuted Christian minority who have chosen to stay.
"At the time of this writing, Aleppo is undergoing a massive assault by jihadists, and bombs have been falling for hours. It is as if everything is being done to scare people and push them to leave," Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo wrote in a July 17 letter.
"We want to convey a message of optimism, one that encourages perseverance," he said.
For Archbishop Jeanbart, the most concrete assistance that can be offered to Syrians right now is to help them stay in their homes.
He explained that his diocese is seeking to establish a development program offering concrete aid to benefit small businesses, help rebuild small workshops, and repair homes damaged in the civil war.
Called "Build to Stay," the movement aims to gather the large number of faithful who are convinced of the relevance of Christians' continued presence in Syria.
"We do all that we can to allow the faithful to live on in this time of great trial in which humanitarian aid has become a priority," he said.
Now in its fifth year, the Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 persons.
The conflict began March 15, 2011, when demonstrations protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath Party sprang up nationwide. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
Half of Syria's population have fled their homes because of the civil war. There are more than 4 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Turkey and Lebanon, and an additional 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
Archbishop Jeanbart said he remains close to the people who have chosen to stay, in order "to give them courage. We try to give them reasons to believe in a brighter future in this country."
"For us bishops, successors of the Apostles and shepherds of the faithful in Syria, acting to further the continuation of the Christian presence in the country is a huge responsibility and a sacred task," he said.
He noted that the Church in Syria has been fighting against the Christian exodus for years, because it weakens and "compromises the presence of the Church of the Apostles in the land that saw the very beginnings of Christianity".
"Must we forget that Saul was converted on the road to Damascus? Wasn't he baptized, confirmed and ordained a priest and sent on his great mission in the world by the Church of Syria that had its beginnings in Damascus?" the archbishop asked.
The Church in Syria, he observed, has given up millions of martyrs who have "irrigated with their innocent blood the soil of our country."
"Doesn't this Church deserve to be helped and supported so that it can continue its two-thousand year journey on the path of the Christian faith?"
In an appeal, Archbishop Jeanbart closed his letter explaining that if the world wants to help, "pray with us for an end to this war. If you want to help us, fight to bring peace to our land."
"If you want to help us, help us support those Christians who have decided to stay to ensure the perennial Christians presence in the country. If you want to help us, help us accompany these faithful in their battle against defeat and in their efforts to 'Build to Stay.'"