Patriarch Gregorios III Laham
The Christian population of Qusayr, a town near Homs, have fled, following an ultimatum from the military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba.
Fides reports that out of the ten thousand faithful who lived in the town, only a thousand remained at the start of the conflict. These have now been forced to flee after receiving threats.
Some mosques in the city announced from the minarets last week: "Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, which expires this Friday." The ultimatum expired on 8 June.
The Christian population who had begun to hope again after the presence of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit who stayed in Qusayr for a week, with the idea of "praying and fasting for peace in the midst of the conflict".
The reasons for this ultimatum remain unclear. According to some, it has been issued to protect Christians from more persecution.
Some argue that Christians have openly expressed their loyalty to the state and for this reason the opposition army wants to drive them away.
Now Christian families from Qusayr have joined the exodus of refugees in the valleys and the surrounding countryside. Some have taken refuge with relatives and friends in Damascus. A very few families have decided to to stay in their home town, but no one knows what fate they will suffer.
Fides sources insist that Islamic Salafist extremist groups, that are in the ranks of the armed opposition, consider Christians 'infidels', they confiscate their belongings, commit summary executions and are ready to start a 'sectarian war'.
Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Damascus, has urged Christians to fast and pray for peace. He said in a message to Fides that the Church intends to accompany the difficult situation in the country, so that "God can restore peace, brotherly love and mutual solidarity in Syria, in all its regions and among all its citizens,"
The Patriarch said: "In the Eastern tradition of the Church, after Pentecost in the month of June is observed the 'Fast of the Twelve Apostles', chief among whom are Peter and Paul, whom the Church in the East and West alike commemorates on June 29. This fast begins this year on June 4 and ends on June 28.
"Now, after the escalation of violence, especially the widespread series of assassinations and kidnappings for ransom that has affected a great many members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and others, especially in Homs, we ask all the children of our patriarchal Eparchy of Damascus to fast and say special prayers every day, at home and in church."
"This is our response to the painful events that have caused weeping and heartbreak, implanting terrifying images and causing hatred and revenge." The special initiative, informs the Patriarch, is addressed to all,clergy, laity, families, who can turn to God with special prayer intentions: "for all Christians that their hearts may be confirmed in true faith and united in thy Church; for leaders and members of Parliament, that they may be enlightened and follow the ways of understanding, compassion and effectual co-operation for all the inhabitants of Syria, that their hearts may be confirmed in understanding and peace.