For Christians in Syria, Holy Week is a time for renewing faith

For Christians in Syria, Holy Week is a time for renewing faith

Credit: Andrey Kuzmin

Catholic News Agency

April 2, 2018

Homs, Syria

Christians in Syria have suffered greatly in recent years. Between the Syrian civil war and ISIS occupation, many have lost their homes, their jobs, and many of their material possessions.

“But they have not lost their faith, despite everything,” said Josué Villalón, a journalist working for Aid to the Church in Need in Spain, who recently visited some of the projects supported by pontifical foundation in Syria.

“Each person and each family with whom we spoke expressed to us that right now what gives them hope and sustains them is to be able to celebrate the Eucharist – because even though they have lost everything material, they still have Jesus Christ,” he told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency.

Aid to the Church in Need is working to help thousands of those displaced by the war and persecution to return to their homes. The agency’s Spanish branch contributes more than 600,000 euros annually to help in reconstruction efforts and continuing education for young people.

One of the moments that most impressed Villalón was his visit to the Syrian Catholic cathedral in the city of Homs, where hundreds of Christians were praying the Way of the Cross.

“Praying the Way of the Cross is a very strong tradition in Syria and the Middle East. It’s always been a focal point for Christians for their Lenten and Holy Week [devotions], ” he said.

On Good Friday, a procession is planned through the streets of the old city of Homs with a cross and various icons of the Virgin Mary.

“Now more than ever, the Way of the Cross is a very important prayer,” said Villalón, because the Christian population of Syria, “with everything they have suffered during these years of war, and everything they are still suffering, embodies a way of the cross. And so this prayer has even more meaning for them.”

Many of those living in the country today have beautiful testimonies, he continued.

“What is so powerful is that Christians in Syria today are embodying in their own lives the Gospel and the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus,” he said, adding that he saw in them reflections of Christ carrying his cross, and of Veronica and Simon of Cyrene offering help.

Villalón pointed out some the first Christians were from Syria.

“Centuries before Islam came, there were Christians there, and it was in Antioch that the followers of Christ were first called Christians,” he said. “The amount of historical and documentary sources is enormous there. For example, it was in Damascus that Saint Paul received Jesus’ call to conversion.”

In addition to their 2,000-year presence in the region, Christians in Syria and the Middle East continue to “contribute a number of irreplaceable values” such as “charity, freedom, forgiveness, and hope,” said Villalón.

“Christians are the only ones that speak about all these things, and so their presence is very important here.”