"Christians are living in fear but don't want to leave their homeland"
In spite of an uncertain future the Christians in Syria want to stay. This was the message conveyed by the Melkite Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabrud, Jean Abdo Arbach, when he visited the international Catholic pastoral charity "Aid to the Church in Need". Archbishop Abdo Arbach's exact words were: "We Christians are living in fear, the future is uncertain, but we want to stay in our homeland." Despite reports to the contrary, the 61-year-old native Syrian said, 20,000 Christians of various denominations currently live in Homs close to the northern Border of Lebanon, and about 200,000 in the Homs region. Many of the faithful, including Melkite, Greek-Catholic, Syrian-Catholic, Maronite, Greek-Orthodox and Orthodox, have now returned to the city of Homs, according to the Melkite Greek-Catholic Archbishop.
“Do not celebrate Easter or you will be killed like your Christ” This is the situation facing Syrian Christian families who are encouraged to flee to Jordan in a form of ethnic cleansing that forbids religious freedom. In fact, only on Monday, 7th April was the news broken of the murder of Fr. Frans van der Lugt S.J., aged 75, who was beaten and shot dead in Homs, Syria. Fr. Van der Lugt had decided to „stay behind“ and care for his friends but was taken hostage and eventually, customarily, executed for his faith. Last month Pope Francis said (4th March 2014): “I tell you today there are more martyrs than during the early times of the Church.”
According Archbishop Abdo Arbach "The situation in and around Homs is calm. Government troops have almost complete control over the region and the rebels control four to five districts. The main fighting is taking place in the cities of Yabrud and Hama,", who intends to stick it out in Homs. He claims that the news coming from the north of Syria, which is controlled by the rebels, is alarming. According to this, Christians are being made to knuckle under to certain rules. Archbishop Abdo Arbach says: "Firstly Islamic law is to be applied, secondly all Christian symbols which are publicly visible are to be destroyed and thirdly Christians who wish to remain will in future have to pay a special tax."
In the presence of the Executive President of "Aid to the Church in Need", Baron Johannes Heereman, the Archbishop expressed his gratitude for the organisation's support: "'Aid to the Church in Need' in particular has done much to ensure that we can regularly support many families, the parishes and priests. For the faithful it is important that their priests and their Bishop bear the suffering and persevere like everyone else."
Interestingly, only a few days ago Stephen Axisa, director of the Malta branch of Aid to the Church in Need announced a major international conference to be held in Malta (12th and 13th May 2014 at the Dolmen Hotel, St Paul’s Bay) focusing on religious freedom and the persecution of Christians today. Mr. Axisa commented: “It is quite amazing that so few of us are aware of the scale of suffering endured by our brothers and sisters in Christ. International figures show that 80% of all religious persecution is against Christians and it is estimated that 200 million Christians are not free to live their faith without discrimination, oppression or persecution.” Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch from Damascus, Syria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria and Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, Egypt will be amongst the main speakers. Places at the conference are free but it is important to register. For more details contact ACN Malta on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 21487818.