Patriarch to tell NZ of Syrian and Lebanese Christians’ reality

desperate Christians

The miserable reality of Syrian and Lebanese Christians’ lives will be presented to New Zealand and Australian audiences next month.

His Beatitude Joseph Absi – the Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and all the East – has agreed to be a guest speaker at Aid to the Church in Need’s Night of the Witnesses event on 30 November.

Dominican Sister Majella Dogonyaro from Northern Nigeria and Mr Xavier Bisits, ACN’s head of projects for the Middle East, will be joining him.

Bernard Toutounji, the National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Australia & New Zealand, is looking forward to meeting the Patriarch and other invited guests.

They will share their insights and experiences with local ACN members during the event.

“We are overjoyed that these fellow Christians will make the long journey to share with us their experiences and lives of witness.

“In our countries, where we mostly live the faith with such casualness, it can only benefit us to hear from those who deliberately need to choose their faith daily,” Toutounji says.

Desperation revealed

The Melkite Patriarch has already made it clear to ACN that Syrian and Lebanese Christians are desperate.

They “no longer have confidence in their country” he says.

Christians in the Middle East are still leaving their homelands despite the Church encouraging them to remain.

He explained that it is increasingly difficult to give hope to Christians in Syria and Lebanon where most of the Melkite faithful live.

“The young are particularly likely to leave,” he says.

Between the civil war in Syria, the pandemic and extreme economic hardship in Syria and Lebanon, life has become particularly difficult for Syrian and Lebanese people over the past six years or so, he explains.

Absi says desperation is forcing people to emigrate.

“That’s why they are leaving. We did a lot at the beginning to keep them in the country but the situation has not improved.

“We are still doing everything possible to help our faithful, to provide them with essential services. But we cannot replace governments.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel, we do not see a short-term solution. Without support we can no longer convince them to stay.”

Between 2016 and 2021, Syria’s Christian population decreased from 6.31 percent to 3.84 percent says ACN’s 2023 Religious Freedom in the World Report.

What can we in New Zealand do to help?

Absi has some ideas about how the situation in Syria could be improved.

The West could lift the sanctions which are negatively impacting the civilian population, he suggests.

“I think that our friends can exert pressure in one way or another on their governments, and sometimes even on the religious leaders to help in this direction or to ensure that the sanctions are lifted,” he says.


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