Missionaries in the Institute of the Incarnate Word, recently revealed at the UN congress, the unspeakable atrocities committed against Christians in Syria.
Sister Maria de Guadalupe, a missionary in Syria with the Institute of the Incarnate Word recaps some of the gruesome experiences many Christians have had to endure in the hands of heartless prosecutors.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In a Christian neighbourhood inside war-torn Syria, a young boy was waiting to be discharged from a hospital after undergoing surgery. Suddenly the building shook from a bombing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“His mother, who was with him, ran out of the hospital to look for help. After she left, a bomb directly hit the building and her son was killed.
“She told me ‘My son was already prepared to be in heaven’.” According to the mother, her son had recently reminded her of Christ’s Gospel admonition not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather those who can take the soul.
Sr. Maria explains; “This is what persecuted Christians live daily. They say ‘Don’t worry – kill me. They can’t take away the heaven from me. You can take my head, you can burn my churches. When I die, I won’t die.”
The missionary affirmed at the #WeAreN2016 international congress on religious freedom in New York City. The April 28-30 meeting detailed the plight of persecuted Christians in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria, and asked the United Nations to take action to prevent further atrocities in those regions.
Last Friday, the advocacy group CitizenGO delivered 400,000 signatures to the United Nations headquarters, petitioning the UN Security Council to declare that the Islamic State is committing genocide in Iraq and Syria against Christians and other religious minorities, and for the matter to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution.
Sister Maria and Fr. Rodrigo Miranda, missionaries in the Institute of the Incarnate Word, both testified at the congress. They have lived in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war, and told the gathering of unspeakable atrocities committed against Christians there.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“For Christians in Syria, life has been one long Ã¢â‚¬ËœWay of the CrossÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ since the civil war began five years ago.
“The media talked about [peaceful] demonstrations from the Syrian people, who looked for liberty and democracy,” Sr. Maria de Guadalupe recalled of the Arab Spring, though in reality Ã¢â‚¬Ëœit was very differentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.”
Meanwhile, reports began to travel to university students who were studying at the mission in Aleppo that non-Syrian armed groups are entering Christian neighbourhoods and killing Christians.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Thousands soon took to the streets of Aleppo to demonstrate their support to the government because they preferred to keep going as they were, –because what they saw coming wasn’t democracy,” Maria disclosed.
What followed was a war that nobody was expecting in Syria. Overnight, the armed groups started to seize the people in the cities.”
Aleppo, she noted, is the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmost important cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœeconomic center of the country,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ so terror groups targeted the city and besieged it for a full year. Electricity was available only one to two hours a day. Water came every 10 to 15 days.
“Then the city became war every single day. And we have been living like that for five years,” Sr. Maria said.
Fr. Rodrigo chipped in; Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Christian neighbourhoods and churches have been targeted the most. There has been “total destruction” in the Christian communities; especially during the important feasts of the Christian year.”
“So we always expect a massive attack during Christmas and Easter . They destroy our churches, monasteries, shelters, everything.”
After the Muslim preaching and prayer on Fridays, he said, his community would be “targeted, threatened, directly attacked, because we were the only Christian community in the area.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Christians are kidnapped, tortured, martyred, beheaded, cut in pieces,” he disclosed.
“Regularly they broke the windows of our houses and cars, or there were times when they entered into the houses of our consecrated sisters with knives, threatening of rape or martyrdom commonly harassed them when they had to go on the streets.”
“Or they threw their cars or motorcycles against the children of our small Christian school. I personally defended my children from them.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“A Christian cemetery was also destroyed and the corpses desecrated and displayed in public, he said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“And children and priests have been special targets for brutality. They have been “buried alive” in front of their mothers, and beheaded with their heads put on spikes in public squares.
“Girls, mostly between 10 and 15 years old, are raped, up to ten times a day or more, and sold in the successful and growing prostitution market from the region and in the Western countries.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Priests have also been targets of hatred. Fr. Rodrigo recounted the story of a 75 year-old Dutch missionary priest who “was kidnapped and shot twice in the back of the head because he was feeding the [poor],” Fr. Rodrigo added.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Other priests have had their bones broken and teeth knocked out, and have been starved nearly to death. Why? Political bias? Ethnic cleansing? He’s a priest, an imitator of Christ. The reason of this is the hatred of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Rodrigo laments.
“If they persecute me, said our Lord, they will also persecute you. Christ is a sign of contradiction, and we are going to be the sign of contradiction in Syria and Iraq.”
For Fr. Rodrigo, “the motivation of today’s genocide is the same from the very beginning, from the roots of our very difficult coexistence with Islam. And the violence against Christians has continued to the present.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On Saturday, Sr. Maria relayed a message from her community in Aleppo that “the city has been attacked terribly by rebels, the last desperate attempt to take the city.”
“There is no safe place in the whole city. A lot of Christians have died in the last few days. The rebels have said that this is revenge. They will make civilians in the whole city pay for the repression that they are receiving.”
“This is the ‘moderate’ opposition that we have in Syria,” she continued.
Yet the Christians, despite tremendous suffering, have seen their faith grow through it. At the end of the day we have the cross that Jesus Christ gives us, and that is the way.”
Suffering also helps Christians to live as though every day is their last, because for Christians in Aleppo, it may well be their last day alive.
“Are we going to waste time in the last day of our life?” she asked in her Saturday testimony at the congress. “Are we going to keep living in sin in the last days of our lives? I can die today. I want to go to heaven. So today, I am going to make the most out of the day.”
Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian life, peace is a gift from above; from God,” Fr. Rodrigo insisted.
“We are missionaries, and we have the opportunity, the possibility to live with the martyrs of our time. This is a privilege,” Sr. Maria concluded.