Yesterday, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has decided that the Holy Thursday collection at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, will be used to offer humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. The situation in Syria has resulted in the exodus of Christians from the region. Many are finding refuge in surrounding Middle East countries like Turkey and Lebanon. Earlier this month the Catholic News Service interviewed Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, about how what’s happening in Syria reflects a changing Middle East:
“The same pattern like in Iraq is re-emerging, as Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians in Syria,” said Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria. “Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians.”
“We lost Christians in Iraq; if we lose (them) in Syria what will happen to Christians in the Middle East?” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. “Christians are leaving the region, and we have to work to reduce this loss. Time is not with us. (Syria) is the last castle of Christianity in the Middle East. If they start emigrating from Syria, it is the beginning of the end of Christianity in this area.”
In a March 7 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bahou said there are no official statistics, but an estimated 200 Christians were among the recent wave of Syrian refugees entering Jordan. He said many of those same refugees earlier had fled Iraq for Syria.
“They are refugees from one country to another. It is everywhere now, not just in Jordan. Also in Lebanon and Turkey. This population movement is also creating a changing Middle East,” Bahou said.