In November 2016, Pope Francis made the unusual move of elevating Archbishop Mario Zenari, papal nuncio in Syria, to the College of Cardinals. With this appointment, the Pope acknowledged and honored Cardinal Zenari’s commitment to remain in his post despite Syria’s civil war; it was also an expression of the Pope’s solidarity with the suffering Syrian people, in particular its Christian community. This spring, speaking in New York, Cardinal Zenari described Syria as “an immense field to practice corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”
In this letter from Damascus, Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar describes the suffering faced by their faithful and clergy. The letter was obtained by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need and provided to Zenit.
Rowing against the current in Damascus
By Archbishop Samir Nassar
THIS seventh year of Syria’s civil war is reaping the bitter fruit of successive violence storms that have shattered Syrian society’s peace. Here are the main three victims: families, young people and the Church.
Shattered families: This basic unit of Syrian society, which had previously saved its country in crisis, has lost its identity. Dispersed, deprived of resources, lacking shelter, grieving, ravaged by disease, the elderly—the heads of the family in the past—are increasingly isolated and find no assistance whatsoever. Forced to row against the current during these seven years of violence, can this shattered and fragile family keep standing?
Tormented young people: In the past, young people were the strength of our society; today they’re divided between the battlefield fronts of war and trying to escape the massive and prolonged military service conscription that’s part of the country’s general mobilization. Great numbers of young people leave the country, leaving a huge emptiness behind. Their absence is felt in the Syrian economy which suffers from a pronounced shortage of manual labor and is greatly weakened. How can we guarantee the survival of a country deprived of its active workforces?
A Church that questions herself: There hasn’t been one single baptism or marriage in the last eight months. This drop in the sacraments has been felt in the last five years. The absence of young people has big repercussions for parish life.
Sunday liturgies, catechism, First Communion and parish activities across the board have diminished considerably and have contributed to the exodus of priests who have seen their pastoral duties reduced to a minimal level; they are extremely discouraged.
Can’t we see in these changes the beginning of a twilight?
These structural mutations invite us to question ourselves concerning the pastoral traditions.
Such an old Apostolic Church, rooted in tradition and customs—can she take steps towards a new type of Christian testimony?
In order to save the last witnesses of the Gospel, our little Church relies on the Holy Spirit, who alone guides us toward a new Pentecost. COME SPIRIT OF LIGHT!
Damascus, July 18, 2017
+ Samir NASSAR
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus