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Church in Syria faces ‘suicidal choice’, says archbishop

Damascus, 2015. Syria approaches its fifth Christmas at war (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The Church in Syria faces a “suicidal choice” of either exile or “living under the shadow of Islam”, one of Syria’s leading clerics has said.

In his pre-Christmas letter Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus spoke of the exodus of Christians from the country, much of which is under the control of Islamist groups like ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front. He also spoke about the sense of hopelessness that pervades the country as it approaches its fifth Christmas at war.

In a letter the archbishop wrote that: “Since 2003 (the Iraq war) and especially since 2011 (Arab spring) the exodus of Christians from the east increases. Some reports give only ten years for the page to turn concerning Christianity in the Middle East. This seems to be a pessimistic view, but observed experience shows an alarming and growing emigration.

“The subject of daily discussions is how to leave. Go anywhere and in any way, even if it means taking dangerous risks. A family just sent their twelve-year-old son away with a caravan of fugitives. A twelve-year-old child has not returned. Will he later be able to invite his family to join him? Will he find a safe place? Given the military stalemate, an increasingly distant peace, and to avoid Military Service, in order to escape an absurd war that has lasted too long, young people are the greatest number of those who leave.

“What is the future a Church without young people? It is the fatal end of apostolic Christianity in a Biblical Land which becomes a hostage of violence and intolerance in the name of a radical faith that neither supports pluralism nor accepts differences.”

He said that the options facing Christians in the Middle East was to either leave, form alliances with other minorities to protect “against the domination of an ‘intolerant’ Islam”, seek protecting from the authorities or “Accept living under the shadow of Islam and continue a life full of difficulties and challenges.”

He added: “The Christians of the East face an almost suicidal choice. Living under the shadow of Islam remains a choice quite difficult to assume. Living in the shadow of Islam requires a return to the early centuries of the Church, which highlights the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth.