The Year of Faith is coming to an end this November, and in considering what comes next for the Church, the archbishop of Denver suggests looking to the courageous witness of Syrian Christians for some answers.
“For many Catholics,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in an address Saturday, the Year of Faith “has been a time of renewal and grace. But for many in the Middle East—especially Christians—this time has been a period of extreme trial.”
The archbishop addressed his remarks to the knights and ladies of the Northern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which is holding its annual meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, through today.
Archbishop Aquila spoke to the Order of a town in Syria called Maalula, where “a version of Aramaic—the language Jesus spoke, can still be heard today.”
“In the last two weeks,” he recounted, “the inhabitants of Maalula have been on the front lines of the fighting between the troops of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels who are trying to topple his regime.”
“On September 7,” he continued, “armed rebels affiliated with the Islamist groups Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda descended on the town and began entering houses. As they went through Maalula, the rebels defaced any sacred images they found in the homes.
“In one house, the militants found three Greek Catholic men and one woman: Mikhael Taalab, his cousin Antoun Taalab, Sarkis el Zakhm, who was Mikhael’s grandson, and the woman who related the tragedy to Fides, using the name ‘A.’ The rebels demanded that everyone present convert to Islam or face death.
“Sarkis el Zakhm, the grandson, responded: ‘I am a Christian and if you want to kill me because I am a Christian, do it.’ Sarkis, together with the two other men in the house, was killed in cold blood. Somehow, the woman was only injured and miraculously survived. She is currently being treated at a hospital in Damascus.”
“I share this story because I believe it will help us to respond to the question: ‘What do we do once the Year of Faith is over?'” the archbishop said.
“This time of grace and renewal,” he urged, “must lead us as Catholics to share our joy and our faith in Christ with the world, and to do so courageously, inspired by the example of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and giving their lives for the faith.”
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is a lay institution charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.