BEIRUT: Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III voiced alarm Friday about the situation of churches and Christians in Syria and appealed for urgently needed aid.
“The 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, Hawran and Damascus,” Lahham said in a letter ahead of the start 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 as the faithful and priests have deserted their parishes,” said the prelate, who is based in the Metn town of Rabieh.
Earlier this week, the bishop of Aleppo voiced similar concerns, saying that Christians in Syria were being terrorized by kidnappings for ransom.
Concerns over the fate of Christians in Syria have grown amid reports about the rising influence of Islamists among the ranks of anti-regime fighters.
Lahham also spoke about the condition of Christian students 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.
Churches were working to ameliorate the suffering of Syria’s Christians and Muslims alike, he said, urging the international community to help religious institutions to continue 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 appealed to bishops in all countries to work and suggest names of businessmen that could head the subcommittees in order to gather support and funds to face the challenges awaiting “our parishes and Christian presence.”