Syrian Church leaders have requested our perseverance in prayer for peace and stability in their country.
The latest call for prayer follows an assault beginning on 29th November by Jabhat al-Nusra and four other armed groups on Ma’aloula, a historic Christian town north of Damascus. Recall that we requested prayer in September when there was heavy fighting prompting many residents of Ma’aloula to flee.
Following the latest assault there was heavy fighting in the town on 2nd December. Details of the situation remain unclear. However, it appears that armed groups opposed to the government are now in control of the upper parts of the town which include the ancient quarter in which the Greek Orthodox St. Thecla Convent and several churches are located.
There have been conflicting reports about the status of 40 nuns living at the Convent, and of orphaned children in their care. Some reports claimed that most nuns (all those under the age of 60) were relocated to a safer location before the latest outbreak of violence, that 21 orphans had been moved safely to Damascus, and that Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and other older nuns had chosen to stay at the Convent. The government’s official news agency then claimed that, following the capture of the town by opposition forces, the Mother Superior and a number of other nuns were taken hostage by extremists. Media reports by those opposing the government claimed that the nuns were being protected by opposition forces from army sniper fire and shelling. The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, John Yazigi, appealed for the safe release of the nuns and orphans.
While many reports claimed that twelve nuns have been in the custody of opposition forces, some reliable sources have today claimed that there are five, not twelve. Most are now reporting that the Mother Superior and the nuns with her have now been escorted to a place of safety in Yabroud, a nearby town. Meanwhile, some reports claim that 35 nuns remain in the Convent in Ma’aloula.
The confusing nature of reports about events in Ma’aloula reflects the complexity of the crisis and the widespread use of media to promote the agendas of differing parties.
A conference to seek an end to the violent conflict is scheduled to be held in Geneva on 22nd January 2014. Various Syrian and international players are considering their representation and platforms. Meanwhile, Syrian Christian leaders, along with many other voices, continue to draw attention to the desperate humanitarian situation in parts of Syria. This desperation is compounded by the onset of winter and by the continued denial of access for humanitarian aid in some areas.
Syrian Christians request our prayers that:
a. The nuns of Ma’aloula will remain safe, together with the orphans they have been caring for
b. The two bishops kidnapped in April, a monk missing since early August and other Christians held hostage will be released unharmed
c. Syrian Christians will know the close presence of Jesus, the guidance of the Spirit and the protection of the Father
d. The Geneva conference will prompt renewed efforts to end the violence, and seek a way forward that respects all Syria’s diverse ethnic and religious groups
e. The international community, together with those in local control, will act decisively to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches all those in need.