Archbishop Nassar described Syria as 'a huge disaster zone' of 'ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground'

The Maronite Archbishop of Damascus has written a pastoral letter describing the challenges of daily life in war-torn Syria.

In a letter released on Ash Monday – the beginning of Lent in the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Church – Archbishop Samir Nassar speaks of five of the horrors experienced in the Syrian Civil War.

Entitled “A Very Bitter Lent”, the pastoral letter portrays the “apocalyptic scene” that Syria has been reduced to.

“It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonised buildings, burned down houses, ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground,” Archbishop Nassar writes, “More than twelve million Syrians, 50 per cent of the population, are lacking a roof.”

The letter goes on to describe shattered family life and the sacrifice of childhoods.

“The children are the most fragile,” he says, “They have paid a great price for this merciless violence.

“The centres of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?”

The archbishop adds that there has been a severe decline in parish life, pointing to the departure of a third of clergy from the Church of Damascus as a blow to the Christian minority in the country.

He goes on: “The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.”

Finally, Archbishop Nassar writes that Syrians have lost all hope of finding freedom through fighting and daily life is simply about survival.

“Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel, which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.

“The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.”

The letter concludes with a request from the archbishop for Syrians to recommit themselves to the Church and to find rest in Christ during “this bitter Lent of 2017”.

Archbishop Nassar’s letter in full:

A Very Bitter Lent

1) An Apocalyptic Scene
In six years of war the face of Syria has changed quite a lot. It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonised buildings, burnt-down houses, ghost neighbourhoods and towns destroyed to the ground. More than twelve millions Syrians, 50% of the population, are lacking a roof.

They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several millions have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some have drowned attempting to leave, and others are in line at embassies, nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?

2) A Shattered Family
The family, which fortifies Church and Nation and has saved the country in the past, is heavily shaken. Seldom is a complete family found. Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battlefield. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.

Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilisation, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled. How is it possible to follow course without a family or with a broken family?

3) A Sacrificed Childhood
The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence. According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritise their physical wellbeing. Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. These overwhelming circumstances impose academic failure.

The centres of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks. How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?

4) Threatened Parishes
Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support. The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one third of their clergy (27 priests). This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.

The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.

How do we fix this alarming haemorrhage?

Can we imagine a Church without priests?

5) Between Pain and Freedom
The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel, which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy. These darken nights and reduce any social life.

The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.

Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young fiancés.

Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?

This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.

This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful in distress, to lead the way towards Christ Resurrected. Christ Light of the world who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)