Paul Keenan & Mags Gargan (The Irish Catholic)
The ancient Christian community in Syria is faced with extinction as the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al Assad continues to worsen.
This was the stark warning given in Dublin this week by a nun who has, like so many others, been forced to flee the war-torn country. It comes as Trócaire stepped up efforts to get aid to refugees and others displaced by the crisis.
“There is fear and insecurity, but there is no future,” Mother Agnes Mariam, a Melkite Greek Catholic nun based in the rebel stronghold of Homs in the west of the country told The Irish Catholic this week. She appealed to western government not to arm the rebels warning that this would make the situation worse for the Christian minority.
Speaking of atrocities committed on those considered to be collaborators, Sr Agnes said: “You don’t know when it will be your turn to be considered a collaborator,” warning that Christians face “extinction”.
She insisted that she had come to Ireland to speak the truth in relation to the Syrian conflict, and not defend the regime. She said she felt compelled to do so as, in her view, Western media and even the United Nations were offering a distorted picture of events in Syria.
“The Western world seems to be encouraging the rise of sectarian violence to topple the regime,” she said, adding an appeal “to the EU and US not to provide intelligence, arms and funding to the insurgents because it is greatly increasing hardship and chaos.
“Leave us alone,” she pleaded.
Meanwhile, Trócaire, the Irish Church’s overseas development agency, is stepping up efforts with partners in Lebanon to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to refugees. Working with its counterpart ‘Caritas Lebanon’, the agency is providing food, blankets, and hygiene kits to Syrian refugees who have fled into Lebanon to escape the conflict.
With the situation deteriorating by the day. Trócaire told The Irish Catholic it is monitoring the crisis closely and will aim to provide what additional assistance it can as needed.
Sr Agnes’ monastery of 25 sisters and brothers currently ministers to all sides in Syria and has taken in 25 refugees, all Sunni Muslims. However, during a trip outside the country, Sr Agnes learned of an alleged kidnap plot against her by rebels and so elected not to return but to work for peace in the country from abroad.
“We are working with our religious leaders, and Muslim leaders to say there is another way, a non-violent way,” she said.
Numerous observers of the Syrian conflict have expressed the belief that, in the absence of a peaceful settlement to the uprising, Christians will flee amid fears of an Islamist state replacing the current Baathist regime.
In little more than 100 years, the Christian population in the Mediterranean region of the Middle East, the Levant, has dwindled from 20 per cent to an estimated 5pc, with that number previously bolstered in Syria by vibrant communities of Syrian Orthodox and Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. The country’s 2 million Christians make up just 10pc of the population.