Ordination of Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Homs Mor Theophilus Philip Barakat
Last month the Pope gave his assent to the canonical election by the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Syrians of His Excellency as archbishop of Homs, in Syria. The diocese has 13,000 Catholics, 17 priests , 3 permanent deacons and 7 religious.
His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II attended the consecration of the new Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Homs last Saturday , at the Lady of Delivrance Church in Zaydal. Philipe Barakat is the successor to Archbishop Georges Kassab who died in 2013. In his sermon, the new 64-year-old Archbishop promised to serve the flock entrusted to him with all his capacities and asking the Lord to strengthen him in this new ministry.
Philipe Barakat was born in Zeidal-Homs, Syria in 1952 and was ordained a priest in 1976. He holds a degree in theology from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon, and has served in a number of roles including parish priest, bursar and patriarchal administrator of the archieparchy.
“We Christians are like animals and do not count” – ACN interview with the new Archbishop of Homs
Question: Mr. Archbishop to accept a bishopric in wartime, is not an easy task …
Barakat: I was born in Zaidal and for 16 years was the only priest here. During the last three years, I have guided the diocese as Patriarcal. I know all my parishes and had contacted many people during that time. Without the lessons of the past three years, it would be more difficult. So my sheep know me and I know them.
Question: Describe your flock.
Barakat: In my diocese there are around 2,500 Syrian Catholic families, many of them very devout. We have ten priests in the service. In addition to the religious in Mar Mousa Monastery in Nabk there are three sisters from the fellowship of the Holy Ephrem in Zaidal. Our 13 churches are partially scattered or are now difficult to access owing to the war. Not all have their own priests. The farthest is Palmyra, some 200 km from Homs, where the Syrian Catholic Church is the only church that serves Christian workers. We have a few ecclesiastical kindergartens in the diocese. We are too small to have our own schools but we invest a lot in catechesis.
Question: Has the war brought Christians of various denominations closer together?
Barakat: No. Despite war the same sectarianism still prevails, everyone says his church is right. Together we are Christians, but each group first looks at itself. This selfishness is not good.
Question: How has the situation changed in your diocese because of war?
Barakat: Since the war began, most people in Homs have fled, the Christians among them mostly to Wadi Nasara. Those who still live in Homs today are too poor to afford an apartment. We have the archbishopric has temporarily transferred from Homs to Zaidal, the largest parish, because Zaidal is easier to get to. In Qaryatayn Christians no longer live now, many have come to the villages around Homs and we must take care of them. The problem with this is that our villages here are poor. The poor cannot help the poor. We are tired of war, but it is our duty to help. Luckily, there is outside assistance, for which we are very grateful. Only we are not the only ones who need help: all of Syria needs help!
Question: What about emigration to Europe or the United States?
Barakat: Many Christians have left because of the war Syria, especially the boys, who have fled military service. But they are not happy in Europe, and European countries have done nothing for them. They live in camps. Every week families go back to Syria, saying that it is better to die in Syria than to live in Europe. Of those who have gone during the war, more than half will return when there is peace.
Question: Do you have hope for peace?
Barakat: There is still war, a war that kills. But we must always think that it will be better tomorrow and the next day even better. Our government is good for us Christians, to date we have no problems. We are received with much respect and help. European governments know the truth and remain silent, because they want Saudi money. We Christians are like animals and do not count.