I recently asked an anonymous, young, Syrian Christian studying in America what he thought the best solution for Syria was.
“The foreign fighters are bad, but so is Assad,” he said, “Nevertheless, there is hope among the youth that somehow political change will be better than what we have had in the past.” Yet he could not articulate what that change would look like. He put no hope in Putin or Obama and thought that American foreign policy in the Middle East has been detrimental for over a decade.
Many Syrian Christians think the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t. Despite his checkered history, Assad, an Alawite minority, has a reputation for protecting religious minorities in Syria, including Christians.
The young Syrian also noted that the present turmoil is exacerbated by the presence of foreign fighters roaming the Middle East – Muslim mercenaries who have no day to day connection with the people they are fighting.
It does seem our Israel-American foreign policy in the Middle East has proved disadvantageous to native Christians who are wedged between a rock and a hard place. The magnitude of recent Christian persecutions in the Middle East has been staggering and it appears that, for all intents and purposes, our politician’s solutions for peace and stability in the Middle East have no hope of success. UN governments are trying to pick sides in Syria, for example, but the end goals are conflicting and often absurd because these goals are rooted in ideologies which are foreign to Islam.
Pope Francis has put a heavy emphasis on spiritual as well as diplomatic solutions to chaos in the Middle East. Christians are constantly tempted to exhaust their energies in political protest instead of prayer and Christian witness. Pope Francis reminded Christians over the weekend that following Jesus means “sharing His merciful love with others.”
This past week Christians in Maaloula were murdered for refusing to convert to Islam. I have no doubt these courageous believers were supported by the prayers offered for Syria on September 7th. Their martyrdoms will be remembered and will bear fruit in Syria in the coming years. They are not alone. 273 Christians die for their faith every day around the world. This is a sign of the Church’s fidelity, not its decay.
In the 2nd century, Tertullian claimed the blood of the martyrs would be the seed of Christians. His words have been reechoed by the Church for centuries because we know them to be true. Who would have thought, during the empire wide persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303-304, that a decade later Christianity would become a legal religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine and the predominant religion of the empire by the close of that century?
Christians in the Middle East need our prayers for courage in the face of martyrdom. Non-Christians of the Middle East need our prayers to recognize the human dignity and fullness of life that comes with Christianity. As Pope Francis said in his September 8th post-Angelus remarks, “we move forward with prayer…”