Suffering in Damascus Priest gives moving account of people’s trauma

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By Maria Lozano and John Pontifex
A PRIEST from Damascus has described his efforts to minister to people suffering “the depths of fear” amid gunfire and bombs in a city running short of bread, gas and electricity.
Speaking by telephone in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the priest told how he celebrated Mass on Sunday (22nd July) to the sound of shooting and explosives and how afterwards people rushed forward to “embrace me with emotion”.
Describing daily life as “very difficult”, the priest, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, said that people had been trying to get by without bread and other foodstuffs, gas and electricity – all in temperatures of more than 43C.
Saying that after the violence, the Syrian capital was now eerily quiet, he declared his wish to stay with his people through good times and bad.
He stressed the difficulty of trying to give people hope before concluding with an appeal for prayer.
And in a letter to relatives and friends, he wrote: “God alone knows how difficult it is for me to find words to encourage the people not to give up hope.”
He ends, stating: “Please pray for us. Pray for our present and for our future. Pray so that [the violence] stops and that somebody saves what can still be saved.”
In the ACN interview, he described Sunday’s Mass, he said: “It was the first time in my life that I celebrated the Mass… against the sound of gunfire and explosions. It was very difficult.
“We prayed intensely for peace. Afterwards, the believers embraced me with emotion. Although they were still afraid, they went home strengthened.”
Despite stressing the city’s huge problems, he stated: “I will not leave. I am a priest in good and bad times. This means I am a ‘father’ and must now remain with my people.”
He said: “Material aid is important but the depths of fear and loneliness cannot be overcome by money. It is important for us in Syria to know that we are not alone.”
The priest’s comments come after Syria’s Bishop Antoine Audo warned of disaster for Christians as fighting intensified in his city of Aleppo and the capital, Damascus.
He suggested a repeat of the catastrophe in the city of Homs where intense violence led to many churches being desecrated and more than 125,000 Christians and many others fleeing for their lives.
As a Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN has so far this year given more than £100,000 in urgent aid for people urgently needing food, medicine and shelter.
ACN leaders International Executive President Joannes Freiherr Heereman and UK Director Neville Kyrke-Smith have called on the charity’s supporters to pray for peace in Syria.

Editor’s Notes

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.