A child lights a candle at a church in Syria A child lights a candle at a church in Syria  (ANSA)

Syrian Church has lost its ‘abundance of vocations’ due to civil war

The Maronite Archeparch of Damascus, Samir Nassar, laments that family and vocations, two pillars that support the life of Syria’s Christians, are now lost, as the Church in war-torn Syria has gone from “an abundance of vocations” to only 37 seminarians in formation.

By Andrea Rego

Archeparch Samir Nassar reckons that Syrian Christians have lost two important assets, their families and vocations in the Church. This is a result of the country’s 12-year civil war and the economic crisis that has resulted.

Over the years, the situation of Christians in the Middle East has been a major concern in the Church, as Christians are often treated as a minority.

Remembering Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio

On 29 July 2023, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrated Mass at the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Rome on the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio.

Fr. Paolo was an Italian Jesuit priest who founded the Monastic Community of Al-Khalil in Syria to encourage hospitality, ecumenism and dialogue with Islam.

Since July 2013, there has been no news of his whereabouts after he was allegedly abducted.

In his homily, Cardinal Parolin emphasized that Christians in Syria, as in Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and other nations, “are citizens to whom all freedoms must be guaranteed.”

“The Christian communities in the Middle East are part of those peoples in their own right, and have always contributed to their cultural, economic and political development with dedication and competence,” he said.

Reality on the ground

After over 12 years of civil war in Syria, Archeparch Nassar notes that in the past the Church in Syria “depended on a united and close-knit family, and on the abundance of vocations.” However, the war has weakened family bonds and led to a decrease in seminarians.

“It is rare nowadays to find an entire family,” he told AsiaNews. “Twelve years of war have delocalised the family: the father is either exiled or emigrated. The mother is sick or depressed, the children are abroad, each one in a different country. Even grandparents, once honoured at home, are now isolated and die in silence.”

From 120 in 2019, today only 37 seminarians are left in formation. “The massive flight from mandatory military service is reflected in the lack of young men; a situation which decreases marriages and births,” the Archeparch says.

“Therefore, a demographic weakening, empty houses, and Churches thirsty for its faithful, the family, a strong pillar of faith is a shaken asset,” the Maronite Archeparch concludes.

Prayers of hope

Christians in Syria often visit the Shrine of the Martyrs dedicated to eleven Franciscan missionaries and three lay Maronites killed by Druze who were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

The Church in Syria pays homage to the martyrs of 1860 in Damascus and to many who endured martyrdom during the heavy crisis that has torn Syria apart since 2011.

Silent prayers filled with tears find refuge in the ultimate meaning of Christian witness are a representation of hope.

For Christians in the Syrian capital, praying at the Shrine of the Martyrs is their Wall of Lamentation, “to meditate on the meaning of sacrifice and self-giving”.

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02 August 2023, 11:14