The target of a savage bombing campaign, Homs has made headlines around the world. But behind the headlines, another story is emerging. There is disturbing new evidence of intimidation and persecution of Christians in the city.
Before the Syrian uprising against the government – which has left 9,000 dead – began over a year ago, there were an estimated 40,000 Christians in Homs. Now less than 5,000 are left. Most fled because of the conflict. But many are now being driven out. Extremist Sunni Muslim groups have recently started to visit Christian families in Homs, telling them to leave, or else be killed.
"Imagine you are living in Homs in an area where the so-called freedom fighters are entering,” says an Open Doors source. “You hear gunshots and bombs exploding. You can imagine what effect this has. And then one night the extremists knock on your door and they tell you, ‘We are taking over this area so maybe it is time for you to leave.’
“From there events unfold rapidly: the anguished discussions with their local Christian leaders, the hurried packing and the long taxi ride through checkpoint after checkpoint.
"You can imagine the anxiety,” he continues. “They ask questions like ‘Lord, where are we heading to? What's the future for us and our children? What will happen to our house?’ They know – or sense – the answer to that: they will lose their home. Many houses abandoned by Christians are already being occupied by those who have driven them out.”
According to the Open Doors source, even when they reach their destination, the problems don’t go away. They end up living in cramped conditions with their host family. There are no jobs, no schooling. Traumatized by their experiences, the children have difficulty sleeping.
This is the situation for an estimated 7,000 Christian families, which are approximately 35.000 persons. Adrift in a distant and unknown place, Christians are looking to Open Doors and other organizations for help.
Open Doors is responding to the pleas for help by providing emergency relief packages to displaced Syrian Christians as well as food and medical supplies where possible.
“You (Open Doors) make it possible that we can stay,” a Syrian woman said with a big smile on her face just after she received a relief package in a church building. Recently she fled from Homs to a safer part of the country because of the ongoing violence. The woman is one of the families that found a safe refuge. Churches in Syria try to help the Christian refugees from Homs with supplies. Open Doors helps them in this important relief operation.
An Open Doors worker states: “The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling and discipleship training. We are also continuing to provide relief for the thousands of Iraqi refugees who are in the country.
“But strengthening the church is not just about survival. One of the remarkable things about the present conflict is that the church is taking every opportunity it can to reach out to people. Open Doors is helping Syrian Christians distribute more books and more Bibles than ever before.
“In the first few months of the conflict the church as a whole was quite intimidated. But now the church sees it as an opportunity, so there are a few churches that are even more active than before, reaching out to the majority people.”
The Christians in Syria are praying together. “Definitely there is more prayer in the country,” said the Open Doors source. “They pray for stability in the country. They pray for peaceful agreements between government and opposition. They pray for their leaders. They pray for the future of Christians in Syria.”
Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller said the rest of the world must also get on their knees in prayer for the Christians in Syria, who are facing an uncertain future.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.
On another note, the patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Gregorios III denounces the silence of th e Western Press.(Agoravox)."There is no more Revolution, there are no more demonstrations.There are only banditry and the world refuses to acknowledge. "These words are not those of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor those of his ministers, or those of a member of any Arab government support the plan, but those of the Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, whose home is in Damascus.
The prelate did not use vague terms to describe the current state of crisis which is immersed in Syria, "foreign elements have entered the country and have even started beating the Christians, who had to leave Homs given the dangerousness of the situation, "said the patriarch who did not hide some dissatisfaction vis-à-vis the situation considered too soft Vatican towards him.
Gregory III then lashed to the European press with which he dealt during recent visits to the Old World to tell precisely what was happening in Syria. "I do not condone the regime as i have been heard in France, but I support a reality. The newspapers are stereotyped, have unique sources and are not ready to listen to anyone, not even me, "the prelate suggested that currently we do not hesitate to speak of a true" dictatorship of the press service of the United States. " The patriarch has even told a story came to the nephew of a bishop working in Dubai (UAE), who, on his way to work one day, heard a man behind him announce on the phone that he was in Homs, while government troops were an assault on the city, killing women and children."We talked about the plot, but it is far worse than that: there is an international will to harm Syria," said Gregory II