Syria: ‘Worse Than Arms Are the Preachers of Violence’

Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo Discusses City’s Present Situation and Breakdown of Law and Order

By H. Sergio Mora

RIMINI, August 28, 2014 ( – The armed occupation of Syria by Islamic State militants is not the worst thing to happen to the country. Even worse are their preachers who establish themselves in mosques and temples to preach hatred and enroll little ones.


This is according to the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Monsignor George Abou Khazen, who gave a press conference in Rimini Wednesday, accompanied by his predecessor, Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro,

Responding to a question from ZENIT on the impression many have that Muslims in the region are all extremists, he pointed out: “The Muslim population in Syria is very moderate, and continues to be so. They are convinced and preach this in the mosques.”

And Monsignor Khazen added that now the foreign militias “not only brought troops, but also the Ulemas and Saudis who began to preach an absolutely different Islam, and they even enroll children.” Moreover, he explained that they instituted Islamic courts in which a Syrian can be judged by a ceceno [extremist]. In other words, if a father sees that his daughter is being kidnapped by a Muslim, in court he will meet another militiaman just like the aggressor.

To have an idea of who they are, Monsignor Nazzaro pointed to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia who issued a fatwa last year, which was published in newspapers, in which he stated: “Whoever believes that the earth revolves around the sun is an infidel, because my predecessor of the ‘70s said so, and whoever omits this does not deserve to live.” Based on this, you can imagine what the army of the ISIS is like, he said.

Asked by ZENIT about the present situation in Aleppo, after three years of war, Monsignor Khazen said it is a difficult situation, with problems of water, light and lack of security, where there are mortar strikes and every day new deaths. The city is divided: there are neighborhoods controlled by the rebels and others by the Government. The rebels besieged and controlled the city. Today the Syrian army has opened a zone and is able to supply it. The airport is closed because “they also target civil flights.” He added that to date there is no knowledge of the fate of kidnapped bishops and priests and that the convents of nuns residing in Aleppo are still there.

In regard to the financing of these militias, he told ZENIT that “everyone knows about this. It comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey, however, gives less support, only of a logistical nature. If they really wanted the situation to end, they wouldn’t send or train people, they wouldn’t arm them,” he said, adding that “another country” is also involved.

“Just a year ago, when the rebels were only Syrians, things were different; there was respect, there was not this violence and extremism. Now it is the militiamen, primarily foreigners. Now there are many people who before hoped that this spring would flower, but they have realized that it hasn’t,” continued the Apostolic Vicar.

In regard to the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land, he said the population was aware of it. Information comes when there is light and the news can be seen. “Moreover, we have also transmitted it,” he said, adding that people said “we wish the Pope would come here too.”

In regard to the emigration of Christians, he said that in 1968, when the previous government to Assad’s father nationalized the schools, the first exodus took place of Christians to Lebanon, because they wanted to be able to give their children a Christian education. It was “a time of terror,” he said.

“In the beginning Assad’s father was harsh, although he was the last to carry out a coup d’Etat to take power. He wasn’t a Sunni but an Alawite. In the last years of his life, Assad’s father began to relax things, and with his son the opening was greater, almost total in some sectors, such as tourism, commerce, with sufficient security.”

Monsignor Khazen added “there are no statistics of Christians who have stayed in Syria,” although before the war, Christians numbered some 250,000 in a city of 4.5 million. “Today, approximately 60% of Christians have left,” he said.

The Apostolic Vicar concluded by expressing the hope that “present day Syria may continue to exist as a secular, pluralist and moderate country.”

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The Patience of God and the Impatience of Men

The situation in Iraq is very similar to that of Syria. This is a chronicle of p. Luis Montes missionary Institute of the Incarnate Word in Baghdad. You can visit his blog:

Please, pray for us!

Missionaries of the IVE in Syria.


The Patience of God and the Impatience of Men

We always say that it is difficult to explain the situation in this country (i.e how we are doing) and the events of the recent weeks do not make it any easier to do so.

For months now, an area located in mid-western Iraq, the region of Anbar, has been hard hit. It is the region the fought the most against U.S. forces in the war and which was the hardest hit (even with the use of depleted uranium bullets which shows the inhuman face of war; the numbimage001t1er of children born with deformities is shocking); this region has resisted the later Shiite governments.

The large proportion of Sunni residents has been the reason for the permanent rejection of the government; this has led to increasing terrorist bombs and deaths on the one hand, and to the escalation of violent retaliations by the army on the other hand. In short, there is a circle of injustice from both sides which does not seem to end and which no one seems interested in stopping. Do not forget that forgiveness is not accepted in Islam, and therefore evil must be fought with more evil.

Because of the war that is presently being waged in Syria, this conflict is also growing and nobody knows what will happen. Since Anbar province borders Syria, the same terrorists who attack and fight in Syria against the government, also carry out the same actions in Iraq. The same weapons which the Sunni monarchies give to the terrorists in Syria (with the support of some Western powers) are being used here. And the government is unable to curb the escalating violence.

image002t10Until recently, the operation of these fundamentalists consisted in attacks of various kinds. But now, they have already taken cities and strategic points of the country. Recently they captured a water dam and are causing droughts in the southern country, and flooding on the outskirts of Baghdad. And there are real battles at the gates of the capital.

Accustomed to war and post war situations, the residents of Baghdad are not fully aware of what is happening; they hardly talk about it and life goes on as normal.

The international media does not seem to be interested and this news is not read outside.

We do not know up to what point this is going to be controlled or escalated; but the sight of the fields ruined by lack of water, entire neighborhoods evacuated by floods, death of innocents, increasing hatred, and the indifference of the powerful persons of the world, lead us to ask you, friends of Iraq, for more prayers.

The other day, I spoke with an Iraqi friend who told me that she was tired of the actions of evil men. How long shall we suffer this? She remembers a life marked by war, by injustice, by hatred, by the impunity of those who do evil.

The blood of the innocent cries to Heaven and Heaven does not seem to listen.

But we who know that God became man to die for us, we cannot doubt that Heaven always listens. The “seems not to listen” is just that, something that seems to be so, but is not.

inundacion1This is so beautifully explained by Pope Benedict XVI in his speech at the beginning of his pontificate:

How often we wish that God would make show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity. We suffer on account of God’s patience.

We suffer because of the patience of God! What a hard truth! Every man can experience, some more (as those who suffer greater evils for longer time) than others, but everyone can experience it, because the evil of the heart of man is everywhere and the patience of God is infinite.

But the Pope adds:

And yet, we need his patience.

In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds of their people. This was an image of their power, a cynical image: to them their subjects were like sheep, which the shepherd could dispose of as he wished. When the shepherd of all humanity, the living God, himself became a lamb, he stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed. This is how he reveals himself to be the true shepherd: “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep”, Jesus says of himself (Jn 10:14f). It is not power, but love that redeems us! This is God’s sign: he himself is love.

Because of this, God turns everything upside down: we said that “we suffer because of the patience of God”; this is a hard truth. But it is not only this. It is an incredibly consoling truth because He “stood on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed,” because “God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.”

And we want to be on the side of the patience of God. May God grant us this grace.

Fr. Luis Montes, IVE

Missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word in Iraq


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Dear Friends,

When we passed through Rome on the way to our home countries, we had the gift of being able to greet Pope Francis. It was on a Wednesday during the General Audience.

St. Peter’s Square was packed with pilgrims from everywhere. It is a miracle of our faith to see gathered together various kinds of people, from such different conditions, united by the love for the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

As is the tradition, after the catechesis the Holy Father came down from the stage and approached the people to greet them. We felt a palpable atmosphere of celebration and joy. There were also some Argentine groups, singing and applauding with that inspiration that characterizes them. On his way along the guardrail, the Pope joked and chatted with each person with a dedication that was unique – it is as if time stops during those moments. It is as if there was no one else in the square!

Finally it was our turn. I greeted him and introduced ourselves as missionaries in Syria. Instantly the laughter was gone and the countenance of the Pope Francis saddened, unable to hide the deep pain that this war has caused him. We talked a bit about the situation and conveyed to him the gratitude of our people for his prayers. It lasted only a few moments, but they were very intense. Saying goodbye to us, the face of the Successor of Peter lighted up again as he encouraged us with lively enthusiasm “Keep going forward in the missions! Keep going forward!”

Best regards to everyone.

Missionaries in Aleppo, Syria.

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Thank you! You have made us feel that we are at Christmas!

Dear All:

Although we are delayed by a few days –you know the “technical” inconveniences of this mission– we write a few lines to wish you happy feasts! We thank all of you for the greetings that you sent us! May God hear your prayers and grant us peace!

siria (2)

We have had very unique celebrations. Because of the danger and having to concentrate all the activities at a prudent time, both the Christmas and the New Year Masses were at 4 pm. And because it is so cold and there is no heat, we are using the Blessed Sacrament chapel instead of the big church. In the windows of the chapel there are still large plastic patches instead of the stained glass – a reminder of the January explosion last year, but at least it’s a smaller environment and forces us to crowd together!

In the recent weeks we have had very little electricity. But as an unexpected Christmas gift, as soon as the Christmas Mass began, we had power! It lasted for an hour longer, so it gave us time to even have a moment of celebration. With music and some sweets the party was ready! Adults and children danced until the last minute that we had power!

And if some skeptic still ventures to attribute it to chance, on the 31st the same thing happened! We got power during Mass!

In the homily, Fr. Rodrigo urged us to be thankful for the good things with which God has blessed us: the gift of life – in the midst of this war we are still alive! Health, when we have no means to protect ourselves from the cold; that our young people are able to continue their education in college, in spite of so many setbacks; that as faithful, we are able to live the spirit of family intensely, and receive the Blessed Sacrament daily; confessions, spiritual exercises, activities and apostolates made ​​under such adverse circumstances, and many other goods received personally.

After the Mass, we were able to have a bit of celebration until power lasted. And we even had a New Year toast with a bottle of homemade red wine, instead of the more refined champagne!

These are small details that may seem insignificant to the eyes of those who do not suffer the hardships that these people go through here. There is no electricity to hear carols or put lights in the manger; no candies or sweet bread or the means to cook party food, no gifts or new clothes, or even the ability to get a good hot shower!

And while it is ultimately only about the “decorative” aspect of the celebrations, it becomes difficult to live them so austerely … However, after the Mass and the Christmas party, everyone told us happily: Thanks! You have made us feel that we are at Christmas!

And these difficulties are just a shadow of what the Christians are really suffering here. When the feast days were approaching, fundamentalist opposition groups, seeking to sow terror and to prevent the faithful from going to pray, openly published on social networks their plan to attack the traditionally Christian neighborhoods in the center of the city during the feast days, “to fire on their houses missiles painted red as gifts from Santa Claus.” And that is what they did. Bombs literally rained on them during those days, claiming thousands of victims and causing destruction everywhere.

But they do not realize that they cannot beat them … Far from intimidating them, they make them stronger! And the danger of losing one’s life could not drown out the Christmas spirit of this people, who once more filled all the Churches of the city of Aleppo.

That is the secret of Christians; it enrages and confuses the devil and those who work under his banner: suffering strengthens them, persecution makes them fruitful, and death gives them life!

Merry Christmas to all! And again a New Year of peace!

Missionaries in Aleppo

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Even the most difficult needs that these people face do not make them give up!

Dear all:

Although it was some time ago that we wrote this chronicle, now that we have internet connection, we would like to share it with you.

It is very cold in Aleppo. We have just a few hours of electricity per day and fuel is scarce; so the means of heating are also depleted. People took to the streets to get at least some firewood for cooking and heating. And the trees that once beautified the city were stripped bare giving up even their last branches.

One mother did not know what to do to comfort her 3 children who were crying due to the cold. It occurred to her: “let’s dance”. Dad improvised a “table” (an Arabic drum) giving rhythmic beats on the table as the mother sang and danced, holding the hands of the children. They managed to encourage their children who ended up laughing and getting warm … The residents of the apartment below were wondering what was the reason for such a party!

Even the most difficult needs that these people face do not make them give up!

And after several days of freezing temperatures, it began to snow on Monday… For a moment, we forget all the sorrows of this war and took to the streets.

The guns were silent and seemed to have fallen asleep in the deep snow.

And the devastated Aleppo looked beautiful … and white!

Missionaries in Aleppo

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!


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After another week in the darkness … power was restored today! It was only for a short while, but it meant a citywide celebration. The power plant is under siege and so the problem is not solved yet. Apparently they had reached an agreement to allow the supply of electricity. But in practice, we live through entire weeks without power, interrupted by a few days of “extravagance” in which we celebrate for having 2 or 3 hours of electricity. Similar to the roar of soccer fans for a good goal scored from midfield, one hears the contagious cry of joy throughout the city when the power is restored.


Someone creative wrote the following lines which we translate from Arabic:

“The people of Aleppo are the happiest in the world:

They rejoice . . . if the power is restored!

They rejoice . . . if the water is restored!

They rejoice . . . if the internet is restored!

They rejoice . . . if the cellphone signal is restored!

They rejoice . . . if they cross the road without getting hit by a stray bullet!

They rejoice . . . if after standing in queue for 5 hours at the bakery, they succeed in buying some bread and return home safe and sound.

They rejoice . . . if a son went to college, and no missile exploded near where he was.

They rejoice . . . if they have slept during the night despite the sound of explosions.

They rejoice . . . if the night has passed and they wake up for a new day.

This people lives from joy to joy!”

Beyond the irony, it is absolutely true that these people have learned to rejoice. They have learned to thank God for what they have and appreciate as gifts of Providence all those everyday things that seem insignificant.

Missionaries in Aleppo

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