The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, published a cry for help Saturday for a group that has gone almost completely forgotten by the international media: the devastated Christian community in Syria. Bishop Audo declared that in a place that used to be “one of the last remaining strongholds" in the Middle East for Christianity, the Christian faith is “in danger of being driven into extinction.”
Today, the first Sunday of Lent, will see churches crowded across the globe. But here in Syria, where St Paul found his faith, many churches stand empty, targets for bombardment and desecration. Aleppo, where I have been bishop for 25 years, is devastated. We have become accustomed to the daily dose of death and destruction, but living in such uncertainty and fear exhausts the body and the mind.
We hear the thunder of bombs and the rattle of gunfire, but we don’t always know what is happening. It’s hard to describe how chaotic, terrifying and psychologically difficult it is when you have no idea what will happen next, or where the next rocket will fall. Many Christians cope with the tension by being fatalistic: that whatever happens is God’s will.
Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is under mortal threat, in danger of being driven into extinction, the same pattern we have seen in neighbouring Iraq.
Bishop Audo chronicles the tragic events that have occurred since the war began. Most Christians with the means have fled Aleppo for Lebanon, attempting to find schools and a safer environment for their children. But those too poor to leave are caught in a desperate struggle to find food amidst the violence.
Last year, even amid intense fighting, you could see people in the streets running around endlessly trying to find bread in one of the shops. [...]
Most people here are now unemployed, and – without work – daily life lacks a purpose. People have no way to wash and their clothes are ragged. We have almost no electricity, and depression reigns at night
Meanwhile, the health system has crumbled, with many doctors fleeing the country for fear of their lives, leaving residents with little medical help in crises.
Bishop Audo emphasizes that it has not always been like this, still managing to hold out hope that the situation could be turned around.
Syrians lived together for many years as a country, as a civilisation and a culture without hate or violence. Most people are not interested in sectarian divisions. We just want to work and live as we did before the war, when people of all faiths co-existed peacefully.
Syrian Christians may face great peril, but we have a crucial role to play in restoring peace.
Here is the Bishop Audo’s complete letter.