Please don’t abandon Syria

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Heart-broken Patriarch’s desperate plea to stop ‘tsunami’ of youth emigration
By Clare Creegan and John Pontifex
ONE of Syria’s most senior Catholic leaders has issued an impassioned plea to young people, describing a “tsunami” of youth emigration and begging them to stay.
Referring to “an almost communal wave of youth emigration”, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III said the exodus was so severe it begged serious questions about the future of the Church in Syria.
In an open letter to youth, a copy of which was sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Damascus-based prelate said emigration of Christian youth was especially severe in Syria but was also of grave concern elsewhere in the Middle East.
He stated: “The almost communal wave of youth emigration, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq breaks my heart, wounding me deeply and dealing me a deadly blow.
“Given this tsunami of emigration… what future is left for the Church? What will become of our homeland? What will become of our parishes and institutions?”
Recognising the many problems of life in Syria today, the Patriarch said he wanted to “implore” young people to remain.
He stated: “…Despite all your suffering, stay! Be patient! Don’t emigrate! Stay for the Church, your homeland, for Syria and its future! Stay! Do stay!”
Given the state of flux in Syria, no precise figures are available concerning the country’s Christian population.
But, according to conservative estimates, 450,000 of Syria’s pre-2011 Christian population of 1.17 million are either internally displaced or living as refugees abroad.
The Christian population has suffered especially badly as cities with a high concentration of faithful – including Aleppo and Homs – have seen some of the worst fighting and upheaval.
Middle East analysts have warned of Syria experiencing a repeat of the crisis in Iraq where Christian numbers have haemorrhaged from 1 million to less than 300,000 over the past 10 to 15 years.
Encouraging Syria’s Christian youth to persevere in their homeland, Patriarch Gregorios pointed to episodes from the past where the Church quickly recovered after outbreaks of persecution.
He highlighted a revolution in Syria in 1860 involving the killing of thousands of Christians and the destruction of many churches in Damascus Old City before adding:
“Our forebears underwent great difficulties, but they exercised patience and so the Church remained, Christianity remained and the number of Christians even grew after 1860.”
In February 2015, ACN announced 22 new aid projects totalling nearly £1.7 million to help Christians in Syria rebuild their lives, prioritising help for places most affected by the war, including Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
Projects supported by ACN will benefit the thousands of families who remain in Syria, providing food supplies, medicines, rent for housing, as well as heating and electricity.

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 St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in more than 140 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 176 languages and more than 51 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.

For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press & Information, 020 8661 5161 or Clare Creegan, Digital Media and Press Officer on 020 8661 5175. Please contact us for a copy of Patriarch Gregorios III’s letter to young people.