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Syria’s beleaguered Christians

ICC Note: More than 1,000 Christians have been killed and at least 40 churches and Christian centers have been damaged in Syria since the outbreak of war, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham told BBC. This BBC article looks at the Syrian church’s prosperous past and reports on Christians’ concerns over an uncertain future.

4/23/2013 Syria (BBC) – Syria's Christian community is one of the oldest in the world, going back two millennia.

The apostle Paul is said to have been converted on the road to Damascus, while some Christians from the town of Maaloula can still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Near the northern city of Aleppo is the Church of St Simeon Stylites, who spent decades on top of a stone pillar to demonstrate his faith, while in the mountains west of Homs is the castle of Krak des Chevaliers, which was a fortress for the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades.

Christians are believed to have constituted about 30% of the Syrian population as recently as the 1920s. Today, they make up about 10% of Syria's 22 million people.

Sunni Muslims meanwhile make up some 70% of the population and about 12% are Alawites, members of a heterodox Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs. There are smaller numbers of Druze and other sects.

The vast majority of Syrian Christians belong to Eastern denominations. The largest and oldest is the Greek Orthodox Church, which has about 503,000 members. The Armenian Apostolic Church has between 112,000 and 160,000, and the Syrian Orthodox Church about 89,000.

Among the Uniate Churches, which are in communion with Rome, the largest is the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, with between 118,000 and 240,000 members. It is followed by the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, which has between 28,000 and 60,000, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

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