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from issue no. 04/05 - 2011


Iraqi refugees praying in a church in Damascus, Syria [© Monsignor Samir Nassar]

Iraqi refugees praying in a church in Damascus, Syria [© Monsignor Samir Nassar]


Damascus, Syria
A thank you to the Iraqi refugees
Damascus, 30 March 2011
­Mr Giulio Andreotti,
I submit to 30Days the witness of a persecuted, exiled people that preaches Hope and counts on the prayers of the numerous family of 30Days.
Syria has made it easy to take in refugees from lraq. They have  come in their thousands, especially to Damascus, and hundreds continue to arrive in order to escape death and violence of which they have been the targets since 2003. The United Nations services organise their exodus to more favourable surroundings... whilst waiting for a visa these Iraqi refugees remain in Damascus for as long as 2 or 3 years or sometimes longer.
Well-formed Christians, pious and practising in their belief, they make Faith and Christian Hope their refuge: they are filling our churches, giving a dynamism to our parishes and building up the Christian Faith in Syria by bringing a breath of new life:
- True believers these Iraqi refugees are faithful in their assistance at daily mass coming a good distance on foot or by public transport.
- By asking for confession before communion these refugees have encouraged others to return to the confessional where there are often long queues now.
- Their devotion to the saints and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin has relaunched the fabrication of candles, and the small oratories in honour of the Saints both inside and outside the churches are lit up day and night.
- Their children are numerous at the catechism classes and at the preparation for First Communion. Their young people are members of the various church choirs.
- The war has meant that the use of computers spread quickly in Iraq. These refugees in Damascus are very used to the Internet. They have put their knowledge at the service of the parishes and organizations. It is through them that our parishes now have web sites, a forward-looking tool of Evangelization in the modern world.
- Their strong piety pushes them to come by the dozen 2 or 3 times a week to do the big clean of the Cathedral and the forecourt right up to getting a visa. Before traveling, they make sure that they have been replaced in this work.
- They are present in the evenings of prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, pilgrimages, and the processions along the streets of Damascus during Holy Week, and especially during the month of May. Their spiritual dynamism attracts the other communities; one of our priests helps in the Chaldean parish.
- In spite of their poverty and their precarious living conditions they are most generous and share abundantly. One should see them coming from mass to offer to others and give with joy, a smile and sometimes tears...
- They are striking in their time before the Lord, praying in silence and intimacy before the Blessed Sacrament... sometimes for hours... weeping for their dead relatives and asking themselves about the future... and trying to understand why.
- Each week they arrive at the Archbishopric to say goodbye before traveling, and sometimes before breaking up: the parents going to Australia, the children to Canada. Even in the land of exile they cannot live as a family anymore... this is a far harder trial than any...
These Iraqi refugees are only passing through Damascus, and they are traveling missionaries who have left a mark on the Church of Syria, which sees them passing, and questions itself on its own future...
The Synod for the Christians of the Middle East was an opportunity and a time of hope but which did not succeed in stopping the bloodshed and exodus. These missionary refugees scattered in the four corners of the world are only linked now by prayer and the Internet which they are masters of. Cut off from their roots and faced with the evening of their own Church, can these Iraqi refugees who have so much religious vitality bring a new breath of life to the Churches of the West which welcome them?
Samir Nassar Maronite Archbishop of Damascus

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