BEIRUT: Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III voiced alarm Friday on the situation of churches and Christians in Syria and appealed for the necessary aid.
“News that you follow in the media does not truly reflect the tragic situation that citizens are having to live, particularly at the Homs and Latakia dioceses as well as in Aleppo, Houran and Damascus,” Lahham said in his letter on the occasion of lent.
“Many of our sons have been kidnapped and large sums of money have been paid to secure their release. About 100 of our children were killed and martyred along with some 1,000 Christians of all the sects,” he said.
“Around 20 churches were destroyed, damaged or evacuated in the area mentioned and prayers are no longer held there and the faithful and priests have deserted their parishes,” the prelate lamented.
Earlier this week, the bishop of Aleppo also voiced similar concerns, saying the Christians in Syria, considered a minority sect in the Arab country, were being terrorized through kidnappings for ransom.
"There are several fronts and we never know when they will attack. There is constant back-and-forth. We have snipers on the edges of neighborhoods, we have car bombs, bombings," Antoine Audo of the Chaldean Church said in a Vatican office following a synod in Rome to elect a new Chaldean patriarch.
"The worst thing is the kidnappings," he said.
Concerns over the fate of Christians in Syria have grown particularly after the rise of Islamist extremists fighting in the war-torn country.
Lahham also spoke about the condition of Christian students in Syria and the destruction of a Greek Catholic school that was hit by a rocket.
“Not to mention the psychological condition of Christians: doubt, fear, apprehension, the loss of loved ones like a spouse, child, a relative or someone who has gone missing or has been kidnapped,” the patriarch said.
He said churches were working to ameliorate the suffering of Christians and Muslims alike in Syria and urged the international community to help the religious institutions to continue with their aid.
"We don't know how we can continue without aid programs for food, heating, rents, school grants and medicine and that is why at the start of the 40-day lent we have drafted this letter to document some aspects of the tragedy in the country,” Lahham said.
“We thought of creating a central committee of solidarity in Syria under our supervision to achieve the contents of this letter and we suggest the creation of subcommittees in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait and the rest of the dioceses and in our centers in Western countries,” he added.
He appealed to bishops in all countries to work and suggest names of businessmen that could head the subcommittees in order to gather funds and support to face the challenges awaiting "our parishes and Christian presence."