03/06/2013, 00.00
RUSSIA - MIDDLE EAST
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Alarming situation for Christians in Aleppo and across Syria, Moscow Patriarchate warns

by Nina Achmatova
In a statement, the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate reports what is happening in the Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo. With 20 per cent of the city destroyed and electricity and water are in short supply, Christians have fled to Lebanon or elsewhere. As he helps needy families, the Metropolitan of Aleppo and Alexandretta appeals for prayer.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - "Alarming news" are arriving from various dioceses of the Orthodox Church of Antioch. As a result of the escalating military confrontation, Syria's religious minorities find themselves under greater threat, this according to a statement by the Communication Service of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate posted on its website. The press release illustrates the predicament of the Middle Eastern nation, two years into a war between government forces and rebels.

Recently, the Diocesan Council of the archdiocese of Aleppo reported on the situation in Aleppo, saying that 20 per cent of the city lies in ruin and 80 per cent of its infrastructure has been damaged. This has resulted in problems with electrical and fresh water supply.

"Aleppo has been blockaded for seven months because of the battles and clashes in the north of Syria. Normal life in the city has been broken, people have lost their jobs, shops and 90 per cent of schools have been closed. Goods of prime necessity in Aleppo went up in price five-ten times due to the energy crisis and economic blockade," the statement read.

The "Christian minority, not being a party to the conflict, raises up its voice for keeping peace in the country and appeals to the confronting parties to come to the negotiating table," it added.

Most Christians "have already fled from Aleppo to other cities of Syria and Lebanon; others left the city for Europe and North America, while the poor Christian families remain in the city. Many houses of Christians and their public buildings, including an old Christian cathedral, have been destroyed."

Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo and Alexandretta has been involved in helping families that have stayed behind. With homes in need of repair, they need medical treatment and drugs, food and clothing, the statement said.

The hierarch and the Diocesan Council express their "sincere gratitude to all who render spiritual and material assistance to the archdiocese in this dramatic situation."

The Patriarchate's press release also noted that Aleppo's Orthodox Christians are offering their prayers to God for "the cessation of all forms of violence, for the beginning of negotiations between the conflicting parties, and for the re-establishment of peace".

Last month (2-5 February), the Holy Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church equally expressed its "deep concern" over the rapid deterioration of the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa.

Concern for the fate of Christians in the Middle East is a common issue and challenge for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

In his recent visit to Moscow, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Card Bechara Rai said, "We do not want to be called minorities as we settled in this land two thousand years ago. We are not just a group of people transferred by someone to the East. We come from the East and we were here six hundred years before Islam."

"We will continue working with the Russian Church and with other friendly Churches and governments in order to affirm Christians' right to citizenship in our region. We are citizens and will defend our rights."

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