Death of a deacon

By John Pontifex and Oliver Maksan
Damascus bomb blast shows “nobody is safe any more” – Archbishop

A DAMASCUS bomb blast which killed a deacon in training shows that a Christian district of the city is in acute danger – according to a leading Catholic bishop.
Benjamin Camil, 35, was on his way home on Tuesday morning (26th March) after distributing food to destitute people when he was killed instantly by the explosive.
In a message sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus called Mr Camil “a martyr” and said his death showed that the area, home to many Christians, was now a target for attacks.
He said: “The tragic death of Benjamin Camil shows that nobody is safe any more, whether fighter or peaceful civilian.”
The archbishop said that until now, the faithful had still been attending religious services, adding: “But the death of Benjamin Camil puts a question mark over the ability of our faithful to move freely.”
Reporting that so far Church attendance during Holy Week was down by more than 50 percent, he said: “At one time our quarter was spared from the conflict. Now however an increasing number of shells are being fired.
“In view of the intensity of the fighting that is breaking out everywhere, worse is to come.”
Archbishop Nassar paid tribute to Mr Camil, saying: “Becoming a martyr during Holy Week crowns Camil with grace.”
The prelate said: “He was so close to everyone. He was always present, with an open ear, and was always ready to help and share his modest possessions with those most in need.”
The archbishop said that during the conflict Mr Camil had been “giving a helping hand with the overload of social work during these painful times”.
The Catholic prelate said that Mr Camil had been based at the Maronite Archbishopric in Damascus, had looked after the sacristy and was in charge of the reception desk.
Mr Camil was preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate.
Commenting on Mr Camil’s death, the archbishop pondered: “What if Camil had made another choice?
“To die during Holy Week with the Crucified, to serve and praise forever the Risen Saviour and to beg for peace for his martyred country.”
Describing a Christian decline in Damascus, Archbishop Nassar said that people coming for communion had fallen by 60 percent since the fighting began two years ago, and that two of the four Maronite parishes had closed.
He said one parish, which in 2002 still had 30 baptisms, only recorded three last year.
The archbishop said that meanwhile the archdiocese was struggling to cope with the influx of displaced people.
He said: “The misery is great.”
As a Catholic charity for oppressed Christians, helping refugees and displaced people escaping persecution, Aid to the Church in Need has prioritised aid for victims of the crisis in Syria.
Channelling help through aid relief operations overseen by the bishops, ACN has given basic food, shelter and medicine for victims in Syria and those who have fled to neighbouring countries, notably Lebanon.
Last month, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba led a fact-finding team to the region to assess aid options.

0328Syria_Easter at a Damascus church

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 Blessed 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 more than 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.