An after-school program in Khabab, Syria, led in 2008 by Archbishop Boulos Nassif Borkhoche, draws many village children. (photo: Mitchell Prothero)
Like so many places in the Middle East, parts of Syria are experiencing a Christian exodus. In 2008, Mitchell Prothero wrote about this phenomenon in ONE, and the efforts of one man to change that:
Since the 1950’s, economic stagnation, unemployment and a dearth of institutions of higher learning have taken their toll on the population, driving its most talented and motivated to Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut or abroad, particularly the states of the Persian Gulf. Emigration has affected Houran’s population as a whole, but its impact on the Christian minority has been particularly cruel.
Further diminishing their presence is a low birthrate ? most Syrian Christian couples have only two children ? as opposed to a much higher birthrate among the country’s various Islamic communities, which together form about 90 percent of the population.
Holding together the Christian community, keeping its faith alive and its cultural and spiritual traditions intact ? even temporal concerns such as jobs ? fall largely on the shoulders of Christian leaders such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Bosra and Houran, 75-year-old Archbishop Boulos Nassif Borkhoche.
Archbishop Boulos works from a modest three-story rectory, located just outside Khabab. Though surrounded by vineyards and grazing land for cattle, the archbishop touches on the principal challenge facing him and his community ? the absence of a sustainable economic future for the Houran. The associated problems are all too familiar in rural Syria: an insufficient water supply, a lack of modern agricultural equipment and a limited choice of crops that can thrive in the region’s lush volcanic soil but harsh climate.
The archbishop does what he can to invigorate the local economy, and has initiated a few projects to this end, but his resources are modest and the problems vast.
“The church provides assistance to the poor [and] money and medicine to the needy,” he explained. “I feel sorry that I can’t do more, because we cannot afford it.
“There are social problems too,” he continued. “For example, when the father in a family dies, there is no one in the family who can support the children or his widow. So, the church helps when it can, but too often there are not the necessary resources.”
Developing farming, the archbishop believes, is the key to stimulating the economy. And with the aid of various benefactors, including CNEWA and the Syrian Bank for Agriculture, he has progressed, albeit modestly.
Read more about the archbishop’s efforts in the story From Dust to Life.