09/21/2013, 00.00
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Franciscans at the forefront helping Christian and Muslim war victims

Fr. Halim , a former provincial of the Custody of the Holy Land , tells AsiaNews about the situation of the increasingly endangered and persecuted Syrian Christians. The villages in rebel hands are forbidden to non-Muslims . The 11 Franciscans who have remained in Syria suffer along with the population and provide material and spiritual support regardless of faith .

Damascus ( AsiaNews ) - Christians in Syria are in danger. Like the rest of the population they are living the sufferings of war , but because of their faith they are increasingly targeted by Islamic extremists. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Fr . Halim , a former province of Syria for the Custody of the Holy Land, says that "many have lost hope . People hope that the international community and especially the forces in the field pay heed to the Pope's appeal for peace".

The priest said that in Gassanieh ( Lattakiah ) , the village where last on June 23 Fr . Francois Murad was killed, the Islamist insurgents have driven almost all Christians away. "Even religious brothers and sisters - he continues - have had to leave their convents". Of the approximately 1,000 Catholic and Orthodox inhabitants, only five people have chosen to stay. No one has news of them, entrance in the village is forbidden.

The 11 Franciscans left in the country suffer with the people from the bombings, clashes between rebels and the regime, the famine, and the continued kidnappings for extortion committed by unscrupulous criminals. "Before the war - he explains - our work focused mainly on the spiritual formation of communities. The brothers were engaged in the catechism, pastoral activities with young people, in preparation for the sacraments. Now we have to respond first to the material needs to help the people to overcome this sad situation. "

However, Fr. Halim stresses that without spiritual support even humanitarian aid is not enough to raise the morale of the people, who in ever greater numbers are trying to flee the country , to emigrate , leaving everything behind. "Muslims ask us for help and advice. At a time like this there is no distinction between confessions". Recently the Custody of the Holy Land launched an appeal to help the people of Syria. Fr. Halim explains the urgency of such aid: "We are trying to raise funds to support the people on the spot whether they are Christians or Muslims. We do not want to abandon Syria". For the Franciscan journey across the border is often one-way.

"In a year - he continues - we have raised and spent more than 350 thousand dollars for the support not only to the needy, but also to those families who through great sacrifice try to rebuild their lives in their destroyed villages. The money was also used to help the people victim of kidnapping, which has now become part of an agenda".

The threat of Islamic extremists, the bloodiest war ever conducted by the regime and the threat of a military attack by the United States, all threaten the existence of the Christian minority . "We Franciscans - adds the priest - pray that the United States, Europe and the international community, do not move only on the political level . In order to rebuild the country, we must promote reconciliation among the population, through dialogue not only between Christians and Muslims , but especially within the Islamic factions. The friars follow the teachings of the Pope and condemn all violence against civilians, especially those that occurred with chemical weapons, but we have to think above all of the people who are suffering. The hope is that the conflict will soon stop, but here you live from day to day , no one can know when this chaos will end. "


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