As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Islamic
Jihadists rebels forcibly remove twelve nuns from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Tecla in Ma’lula. This is a Christian city just outside Damascus, the place where Saul, a Pharisaic Jew and assasin of Christians, was heading to when he was knocked off his horse by a “light from the sky”. According to Scripture, upon falling to the ground, Saul (now Saint Paul) reported hearing a voice questioning him:
“’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’
The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'”
Indeed, who was Saul persecuting if not Jesus? For Christians believe themselves to be part of his mystical and resurrected body. Pope Francis has asked Christians to pray for the safe release of the Catholic nuns (video).
Jihadist group holding the Christian nuns is apparently perhaps a branch of Al Qaeda. In September the United States wanted to bomb the Syrian government, as punishment for its alleged use of chemical weapons, but then Pope Francis called for Christians worldwide to fast for peace. The Syrian government followed by offering to rid itself of all chemical weapons. Immediately thereafter, the U.S. invasion was called off. But had the United States proceeded with the bombing, it would have been supporting this Jihadist group. It has now been reported that the rebels have also used chemical weapons.
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictatorial president, and most of his government are Alawati Muslims, while the Jihadists are Sunni Muslims (seventy five percent of all Muslims). Thus, in one sense Syria’s Christians are caught up in the violence between two Muslim denominations, but in another they are clearly being deliberately targeted. One news source claims that the nuns will be used as protective shields. Ma’lula was occupied by the Jihadists in September, and at that time they apparently also sequestered Christian nuns. It isn’t clear who controls the town at the moment.
Over one hundred thousand have thus far been killed in the Syrian war, one-third civilians, and over two million refugees are reportedly scattered throughout the Middle East. The Christian population is severely affected, and the Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church blames the United States for supporting those who persecute Christians. RT, an English language Russian news source reports:
“According to the Syrian Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, Gregory Laham, some 450,000 Syrian Christians have been forced from their homes by the civil war that began in March 2011. He added that “at least 57 Christian sites” have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of hostilities, and blamed the United States and its Western allies for aggravating the situation by providing assistance to the rebels.”
He is not the only one. Take a look at this video: Maaloula Syria gave the West St Paul. The West Gave Syria Al Nusra.
In the United States there are over two thousand Mosques and Muslims practice freely. Indeed, according to a Pew report most Muslims rate their community in the United States as excellent or good. There are no Mosques in Cuba and the Koran is apparently not available.
In his recent apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis pleaded with Muslims to reciprocate Christian hospitality in the west by respecting the rights of Christians in areas they control.
“We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Pope Francis, however, has also said that Christians should not relinquish the Middle East.
“We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians, who for two thousand years have proclaimed Christ’s name…”
In the original post I wrote: “It is not only ironic that the US President was on the brink of supporting what appears to be an Al Queda led group that attacks Christians, but that Cuban and Cuban-American Catholics have been thrust into a temporary tactical alliance with the Castro regime, which is one of Assad’s staunchest supporters.” But that statement was not as carefully thought through as it should have been. When I wrote it I was thinking as an ordinary man, and as someone of Cuban and Cuban- American heritage, but not as a Catholic. And I am a Catholic first.
Catholics belong to Jesus Christ, who we believe is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who is God.The Catholic Church is a divine institution founded by God. Its alliances transcend all human categories, and encompasses all humanity.
Catholics believe all human beings owe their existence to God and eternal salvation is possible to all through Jesus Christ, even for those who are not aware of it, “through no fault of their own.” That includes all of a Catholic’s earthly enemies, regardless of their ideology or religion. Thus, in union with Jesus’ salvific mission, Catholics are allies to all human beings. For no one is excluded from Christ’s invitation to eternal salvation. The Castro regime and all of its followers are included; and so are Muslims, and everyone else. There is no special “temporary tactical alliance” to which Cuban Catholics have been thrust into with the Castro regime, resulting from its support of Assad. We are allied to Christ’s work for the purpose of the salvation of their souls, and of everyone else’s. That is it. May God save us all.
UPDATE (DECEMBER 5, 2013)
According to Aciprensa, the Vatican nuncio in Syria has reported that the nuns were “possibly” moved to Yabrud, and that they were “well.” The pope asked for prayers.
UPDATE (DECEMBER 6, 2013)
The nuns have appeared on a video released by Al Jazeera which you can watch here or an abridged version from
al-akhbar Al-Akhbar here. While there are conflicting reports of what is transpiring, and the nuns remain detained, they are alive. The Los Angeles Times reports that “Syrian rebels” are holding them hostage and want to swap them for one thousand women detained by the government. The Daily Star, a Lebanese news source, reports of two groups being involved and that their spokesman has communicated the swap offer to the Syrian government through the Vatican. They report that the Vatican requested that the nuns be transferred to a Christian’s house in Yabroud, but the spokesman for the rebels said this would not happen “until demands are met.” There now appear to be more than twelve nuns abducted. The orphans they were caretaking remain unaccounted for. The Syrian Lebanese prime minister rejected this as an authentic expression of Islam.
UPDATE (DECEMBER 9, 2013)
The nuns have still not been released, the authenticity of the videos is suspect, and it is unclear which Islamic “rebel” group is holding them. There are several expressions of Islam in this conflict; and they are not equally hostile to Christians. In Lebanon, for example, Christians and Muslims have lived in peace, and freedom of worship is respected. But it’s no secret that in Saudi Arabia, a long time ally of the United States, Christians (and other religions) are not permitted to worship in public. And the “Free Syrian Army”, Sunni rebels supported by the Saudi Arabian Monarchy, are one of the groups wresting for control. It opposes al Nusra, also Sunni rebels, but connected to Al Queda.
Both want to establish an Islamic state in Syria. But the Saudi backed group is apparently supported by the United States. If either group gets their wish it means that Christians would be prohibited to worship in Syria. Therefore, the United States should oppose both groups unequivocally.
The Lebanese Daily Star’s most recent news stories are not visible in a Google news search though they have three new ones today. While other stories by them appear, these particular ones are not (yet?) accessible in the United States, except to those who know the source exists, and who go there directly. One of the stories reports that the nuns are not wearing crosses in the previously released video. If the video is authentic and not technically altered, it means that they are being held against their will. Another Daily Star story alleges that an Orthodox bishop, Bishop Luca al-Khoury, is calling on Christians to take up arms in self-defense. But what appears to be a pro rebel Arabic news source, Al Jadid, characterizes this bishop an apologist for the Assad regime who pits Christians against Christians.
The Daily Star also reports thirteen nuns, not twelve, in its story on the bishop.
UPDATE (DECEMBER 11, 2013)
Yabroud has been under intense attack by the Syrian government for the past two days but there is no news regarding the nuns, though is believed they have been taken there.
It is astonishing that the United States has been financing the rebels, and yet that none of them has done anything to help obtain the release of the nuns. According to a US Department of State fact sheet from September 7, one billion dollars had thus far been provided by the United States.
In a December 10 BBC video interview a rebel reveals the general intention to establish Sharia law throughout Syria, and that Al Queda is now one of the dominant groups. He discloses that recruits from all over the world are being trained there. And the United States has been assisting them? That’s exactly right, although today it was announced that they were suspending “non-lethal” assistance, but only in North Syria, and would be continuing with “humanitarian” aid.
exults in hatred does not show much love for towards Shia Muslims, who he does not regard part of the Islamic religion, and explains that he does not have an issue about killing them. I suppose he has been dehumanized like other soldiers, I suppose that he has not read, or has forgotten, or does not agree with Christ’s words: “Pray for your enemies.” Or does he really think that God created humans, in his own image, so that one would kill the other, and then the victim be eternally damned?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Christian gospel of Matthew 5: 43-48
Only another tyrant
like Castro might gladly support someone like Assad. But it is surely better isn’t that he preferable to have him than to have forcing Christians and other minorities to live under a Sunni Islamic state controlled by Sharia law.
Where are the nuns? Why doesn’t the United States, the United Kingdom and all of those who finance the rebels demand an answer? Why don’t Americans begin demanding an answer from their government?
Why don’t their captors clearly explain why they are holding them and have not released them to Christians?
UPDATE (DECEMBER 14, 2013)
According to the Lebanese Daily Star, two Syrian activists report that there are ongoing negotiations between the Assad regime and a specific rebel group that wants to trade the nuns for “hundreds of imprisoned female activists.” The rebel group is known as Al Habib Al Mustafa and it is a branch of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The FSA is supported by Saudi Arabia and has received $1 billion in financial assistance from the United States alone, and more from the west. And yet they have abducted Christian nuns.
But according to the US Department of States the aid was intended to enhance stability to “liberated” areas of Syria. Isn’t that something?
“This assistance is helping the Syrian Coalition, local opposition councils and civil society groups provide essential services to their communities, extend the rule of law, and enhance stability inside liberated areas of Syria. These funds also provide nonlethal assistance to support the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army.”
United States Department of State, September 7, 2013
RELATED EXTERNAL NEWS STORIES AND VIDEOS:
Vatican Insider – “Syrian Islamist militia group Jahbat al-Nusra – which is tied to al-Qaeda – attacked the Christian village of Maalula”
Free Syrian Army” (FSA) and al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front)abduct Christian nuns (video)
Al Qaeda calls for attacks inside United States
Ma-Lula: “Christians and Muslims are brothers in this town” (Video)
Nuns taken also in September? – (video)