Syria’s Christians fear being attacked

by John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need
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 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.”