Christians in Syria facing “genocide” –we need to stand up for religious freedom
In recent years, the civil war in Syria and the subsequent rise of Islamic State resulted in widespread destruction and loss of life. Although the tragic consequences of war affected the entire population of Syria, Christians have suffered in a particular way as a result of very direct persecution.
In some regions, persecution of Christians is so sever and extensive that ACN has received “reports of what we really can call genocide,” said John Pontifex, editor of ACN’s report “Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-2015”.
Syrian Christians have been put under great pressure. They are being killed, forced to flee from their homes, forced to convert to Islam or pay jizyah tax – an Islamic tax – which many cannot afford. All evidence of Christian culture is being systematically wiped out as churches, chapels, sanctuaries, icons, religious statues and crosses have been blown up, set on fire or destroyed.
Although persecution of Christians is not happening to the same extent throughout Syria, it is severe enough for ACN to be concerned about a “motivated ethnic cleansing of Christians” from the region. Worryingly, this persecution is being perpetrated not only by Islamic State, but also by other Islamist militant groups that have the same objective of “clearing the place of Christians”.
The persecution Christians are facing in parts of Syria is extreme enough to be described as “genocide”. It is time for the rest of the world to come to the aid of the persecuted Church. “We need to stand up for religious freedom,” said Pontifex. All Christians, and everyone who believes in religious freedom, have a duty to make their voices heard and speak out urgently in support of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Pope Francis gave his support to the work of ACN., which offers help to persecuted Christians around the world. “Your work of prayer and solidarity brings relief and support to our brothers and sisters who suffer for Christ in the Middle East and around the world,” Pope Francis said, adding“I support you with my blessing” When greeting Arabic-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis also made a special appeal for “the Lord to protect [their families] from evil.”
Whenever possible, ACN is providing basic aid – food, shelter and medicine – to displaced Christians in the safer areas of Syria, as well as to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Besides practical humanitarian help, ACN also offers pastoral supportbut Pontifax explained ”of course the emergency aid which the Holy Father has highlighted by reference to ACN’s need to help in Syria and elsewhere is at the forefront of all our activities at this time.”