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ICC Note: A Syrian church leader writes about the incredible struggle that the Syrian people are facing, and about the particular challenges for the Christian community in particular. In the land where Paul came to faith in Christ, there are Christians being executed for that same faith. Prior to this conflict the majority of Syrians lived together without hostility between neighbors on the basis of religious identity. Now extremism has gained a foothold in the culture. While Christians are facing grave danger, they “have a crucial role to play in restoring peace.”
By: Antoine Audo
03/10/2014 Syria (Telegraph) – Today, the first Sunday of Lent, will see churches crowded across the globe. But here in Syria, where St Paul found his faith, many churches stand empty, targets for bombardment and desecration. Aleppo, where I have been bishop for 25 years, is devastated. We have become accustomed to the daily dose of death and destruction, but living in such uncertainty and fear exhausts the body and the mind.
We hear the thunder of bombs and the rattle of gunfire, but we don’t always know what is happening. It’s hard to describe how chaotic, terrifying and psychologically difficult it is when you have no idea what will happen next, or where the next rocket will fall. Many Christians cope with the tension by being fatalistic: that whatever happens is God’s will.
Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is under mortal threat, in danger of being driven into extinction, the same pattern we have seen in neighbouring Iraq.
Most Christians who could afford to leave Aleppo have already fled for Lebanon, so as to find schools for their children. Those who remain are mostly from poor families. Many can no longer put food on the table. Last year, even amid intense fighting, you could see people in the streets running around endlessly trying to find bread in one of the shops.
The health system has also fallen apart. In the hospitals, many doctors have been threatened and forced to flee, so people fear that if they do get injured there will be no one to treat them. I thank God for the few brave surgeons who have stayed.

Syrians lived together for many years as a country, as a civilisation and a culture without hate or violence. Most people are not interested in sectarian divisions. We just want to work and live as we did before the war, when people of all faiths co-existed peacefully.
Syrian Christians may face great peril, but we have a crucial role to play in restoring peace. We have no interest in power, no stake in the spoils of this war, no objective but to rebuild our society.

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