By John Pontifex
CHRISTIANS in Damascus and Aleppo are terrified of being targeted and driven away, according to a senior bishop.
Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo SJ of Aleppo said the Church was frightened of a repeat of the catastrophe in Homs in the spring when the Christian quarter came under fire, forcing a mass exodus of almost all of the faithful – more than 120,000.
The bishop reported that as conflict deepened in Aleppo and Damascus, people were turning to him, desperate for help after leaving their homes and all their belongings and fleeing for safer towns and villages.
Speaking from Aleppo today (Monday, 23rd July) in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Audo said: “What we are afraid of is that in this situation of anarchy, armed people will come into Christian areas as they did in Homs.
“If they come in around our churches and round our bishopric, just as they did in Homs, it will be disastrous for us.”
He reported that at his Sunday Mass in Aleppo yesterday, the church was half empty because people were too afraid to come.
The bishop described the reasons for the threat against Christians as “very complicated”, adding: “I am not able to give clear reasons why the fighters would attack Christians.
“But what we can say is that if they went into the Christian areas, it would be very bad.
“The fear of Christians is particularly strong. We are a minority. Always we are threatened.”
Stressing safety fears, the bishop said: “What can we do to protect the people? We do not have any possibility to do that.
“Not only are Christians in this very dangerous situation but there are some Muslims too – those who are seen as sympathisers with the government.”
The bishop thanked people – including ACN supporters – for providing food, medical aid and shelter to more than 1,000 families who had fled Homs for smaller towns and villages outside the city.
“It is very difficult, especially for people from Homs, who have left everything behind. The poor people have nothing.
“They lost everything so they very much appreciate ACN’s help.”
But he went on to call for more help: “We have to be able to help more and more people – especially in two areas: food and medical care.
“I have people coming to me asking for help with nothing more than the clothes they are standing up in.”
The bishop spoke of being put under pressure to declare support for the regime or the rebels.
“When I am asked which side do I support, I always answer, I am on the side of my country. I am doing whatever I can to save Syria, this lovely country of ours.”
The bishop added: “What we need is your prayers for all of us. This is a very dangerous time. People are very fearful.”
Aid to the Church in Need has launched an appeal for Syria, working with Bishop Audo to provide emergency and pastoral support. For information, visit: www.acnuk.org/syria
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.