SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST                                                                         Tuesday, 1st September 2015


H.B. Patriarch Gregorios III, 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:

“A homeland without young people is a homeland without a future. Young people without a homeland are young people without a future”.

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. It begged serious questions about the future of the Church in Syria.

Melkite Greek Catholic H.B. Patriarch Gregorios 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, H.B.  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.

Clare Creegan and John Pontifex.