Christians in Syria are facing a seemingly endless Way of the Cross, one of the country’s most senior Church leaders has said.
As the ancient Church in the Middle East faced one of the most challenging Holy Weeks in its history, the Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus lamented the death of the Dutch Jesuit Fr Frans van der Lugt, who was shot dead by an unknown assailant in the besieged rebel enclave in Homs on April 7.
Archbishop Nassar told the faithful in a Palm Sunday letter: “This Holy Week was introduced by the murder of Fr Frans from Homs in the fourth year of war and violence. Shells raining down on our neighbourhoods, schools closed, we cannot give an account of the victims. We are abandoned to Providence.”
He continued: “This small Syrian people, so kind, generous and patient, have become accustomed to suffering and die in silence. It is in this spirit that we live Holy Week and Easter holidays, knowing that the Way of the Cross … has marked our lives for three years, accompanies the fourth year.
“The end of the tunnel is invisible.”
Last week the Prime Minister said the British Government should stand up against the persecution of Christians abroad.
Speaking at a reception in Downing Street, David Cameron said: “I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world. It is the case today that our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world. I think Britain can play a leading role in this.”
It is the first time that the Prime Minister has spoken up on the issue of Christian persecution.
“We have met our obligations in terms of the aid we give to countries around the world,” he said. “We’re seen as a country, which is engaged internationally, and I know that [the Foreign Secretary] William Hague shares my view about this as does Sayeeda Warsi who leads on this issue in the Foreign Office. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.”
During the reception David Cameron also referred to his recent trip to the Holy Land.
He said: “I’m proud this year to have completed a small pilgrimage, which is I have finally made it to the place where our Saviour was both crucified and born.”
The identity of Fr van der Lugt’s killer is still unknown. One theory is that the murder was carried out by a hard-line rebel group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, as punishment for arranging the evacuation of an elderly Christian woman, a blind Sunni man and 21 young rebels from Homs.
Meanwhile, a new campaign is seeking to include a prayer for persecuted Christians at the end of every Sunday Mass. Church officials are said to be “extremely interested” in the idea.