A message from the President of SSJC-Western Region
by Fr. George Morelli
Even a cursory reading or exposure to the current news media has made the world aware of the new martyrs among the Christians of the Apostolic Churches in Syria. Christians make up merely 10% of the 22 million inhabitants of Syria, with most belonging to the Greek Orthodox, Melkite-Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch. A recent Eurasia Review article reported that, "The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians. Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities." What was once a peaceful country has become a battleground of destruction, devastation and death. It is feared that a continuation of armed hostilities will result in the mass exodus of Christians similar to what has happened in the ethnic cleansing of the Christians of Iraq and Palestine. Another Eurasia Review article comments: "The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude."
by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
During this past September 13-18, I was part of a delegation sent to Syria by Metropolitan PHILIP to investigate the internal political situation in that country, particularly with respect to its Christian minority. Our group consisted of six priests of the Antiochian Archdiocese: Fathers Dimitri Darwich (our guide and the only Arabic- speaker), Timothy Ferguson, Joseph Huneycutt, John Winfrey, David Bleam, and myself; and two Protestant pastors: Bonn Clayton and Norman Wilson. An expert in international law, James Perry, came with us, too, accompanied by his wife, Martha, who served as the delegation’s secretary. Attached to the delegation as a reporter for Ancient Faith Radio was John Maddex, its Executive Director.
The following is my own assessment of that experience, along with some account of what I learned.
Let me begin by expressing a deep, sincere gratitude to Metropolitan PHILIP, both for the golden opportunity to visit Syria and for the confidence he placed in myself and the others he sent.
Most of this trip was devoted to matters not directly related to its purpose – namely, visits to shrines and other places of cultural interest. We began, in fact, by first paying our respects at the house of St. Ananias, the first bishop of Damascus, who baptized Saul of Tarsus. We also saw the window in the city wall, through which the Apostle was lowered in a basket. We walked many blocks along and around the “street called Straight,” passing through the Christian and Jewish sections of the city. (There are still three thousand Jews in Syria, by the way, another of the minorities who find a secure home in that country.)
Recently, I returned from a pilgrimage to Syria and Lebanon. When embarking on such a journey, we often have expectations. My expectations were simple: I wanted to visit the holy Shrine of St. Thekla and monasteries, gleaning information and experience to provide consistency and to ensure the transmission of the Antiochian ethos within the life of the Convent of St. Thekla in Pennsylvania.
by Daniel G. Khalil, Jr.
From mid-July through mid-August 2009, I was a resident at St. Elias Monastery in the Dweila neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. I was accompanied by a group of nearly twenty young adults from the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, participating in a program called Damascus Summer Encounter (www.syriasummer.org) – a one-month or two-month program designed to foster friendship and understanding between young people from western nations and the people of Syria. About half of the group had signed up for the two-month session and had joined the Damascus Summer Encounter in mid-June; the other half had opted to participate only in the one-month program and arrived in Damascus in mid-July. In short, the Damascus Summer Encounter is a comprehensive program offering participants an intense yet personal inter-cultural experience combining cultural seminars, language training, visits to historic sites, and, most importantly, community service.