Letters to the Editor
Dear Angelus Press,
During your last trip, you asked us to tell you what we really think. For many years, you have been trying to explain to our friends in France how the very existence of the oldest Christian community in the Near East is threatened. But will you dare tell them today the terrible truth about the danger our souls are in? For it is not so much the Christians they are killing in Syria, but their faith. Contrary to public opinion, we think the Sunni Muslims who behead our brothers and eat their hearts constitute a lesser danger to our Christendom than a Church that has stopped giving us the faith. The dramatic truth is...that the proportion of practicing Catholics has declined to 20 to 30 percent.
Our clergy is dying out. I don’t want to talk about priests who’ve abandoned their flock for safety in America or Europe, but the actual number of vocations, which are becoming rarer and rarer. Can we find an excuse for those who stay among us while deploring the fact that they have not benefitted from any serious formation in doctrine, theology, or even morals? Add to this that, under the pretext that the faithful would have more confidence in a married rather than celibate clergy (it is not too hard, alas! to guess the reasons), it scarcely takes a few months generally to ordain married men priests.
Since the 1970s in the Near East, the secular clergy has scarcely been receiving a better formation. Not to mention the “monks” who are monks in name only, attached to opulent convents in which the servants are more numerous than the religious, who are free to come and go without any check. The plain truth is that today the Christians have no more confidence in their priests than the priests have in the hierarchy. The result is dramatic: faced with the indescribable sufferings they’ve been enduring since the outbreak of war, more and more Christians in Syria are declaring: “God does not exist!”
While the war has been going on for three years with its train of sufferings, deaths daily, booby-trapped cars in the street or shells falling from the sky into your yard, the fear everyone experiences at every instant could be relieved by the comfort of prayer. But no one any longer teaches us how to pray—except for the army’s success and the end of the war.
Do you know, my dear friend, that there is an impressive number of Muslims (Sunnis, Shiites, and Druze) who would ardently like to be baptized—even, as is allowed in certain circumstances, secretly—and they cannot find a priest willing to grant their request and to take the time to instruct them? Not so much from fear of family reprisals against the neophyte, but because they are afraid for themselves should the fact get out. Four hundred years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks has so affected our spirit that we’ve acquired a habit of refraining from evangelizing. It’s deplorable.
With dollars, the free distribution of bad Bibles, and effective indoctrination, the Protestant sects are experiencing a clear success among the numerous families of refugees who are not being helped by their Church. But our Catholic priests never warn us against them; the important thing for them is not to be proud or to belong to one Church rather than another, but to feel like a “Christian” among Christians.
At Damascus extraordinary things are happening, like the Sunni grand mufti of the Mosque of the Omayyads, Sheik Khani, and other important Muslim dignitaries going to Soufanieh to pray to the Virgin Mary on the anniversary of her miraculous apparition there. No one is making them recite the Our Father and wear a rosary around their neck, displaying a courage that could be the envy of many a priest and religious.
Under the pretext that the Orthodox do not—with exceptions—practice individual confession, the Catholics have given it up. Even for our children, the teaching of the truths of faith has vanished. Formerly we were taught that to receive Communion without being in a state of grace was a sin, but they no longer speak to us about confession except to say that it is an outmoded “occidental” custom. I was dismayed to learn that among the Latins, they receive the most holy Body of the Lord in the hand, which is not authorized in the Orient.
When we saw newscasts showing President Assad turn his back on the Israeli ambassador during the funeral of Pope John Paul II we were proud of him, but when we saw the photo of Pope Francis kissing the hand of the grand rabbi of Jerusalem, our heart ached.
All of this to explain to you, my dear friend, that, despite the brave face we put on over our daily fears, the moral despair and the spiritual abandonment experienced by the Arab Christians of Syria is even more poignant than their material distress. So when you get back home, please tell our fellow Christians that we have need of no other arms than the Truth. Very truly yours,
Milad K., Retired Schoolteacher
Translated from the November 2014 issue of the Bulletin of the Association of St. Peter of Antioch and the Orient (JASPA, La Malaunière, 61400 St Langis-lès-Mortagne, France).