Catholic Village Under Fire from Syrian Forces and Rebels – UPDATED

The Syrian village of Maaloula, near Damascus, has a rich history dating back to the time of Christ.

It is a longstanding tradition that St. Thecla, a follower of the apostle Paul, is buried there within the walls of a convent that bears her name.  Thecla had taken a vow of chastity, and she fled to Maaloula to avoid marriage.  As her pursuers approached, a cleft of rock opened on the site, permitting her to escape; and it was there that her convent was constructed.

In fact, Maaloula is one of only three places in the world where residents still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ and the apostles.  The residents of the small town are mostly Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but there is a minority population of Sunni Muslims.  The groups have lived together in harmony—until this week.

Early on Wednesday, September 4, fighting broke out in the picturesque town as the regime in power launched a counter-attack against Islamic rebels.  According to one resident, the government troops entered the main square and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Shells fired from the nearby mountain struck St. Thecla convent, where the saint herself is buried.

The Telegraph reported on the ensuing battle:

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, rebel groups, a mix of the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra and the more moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA), attacked with full force.

“First they took a brick factory owned by a Christian guy, who is now missing,” said the resident. “Then at around 5.30am, a car bomb detonated at the checkpoint at the entrance to the village.

“Some of the rebels entered a home near the checkpoint belonging to Yousef Haddad, a Christian. They tried to force him to convert to Islam.”

A nun living in a convent in the village told the Associated press that 27 orphans living in the convent were taken to nearby caves for shelter.

Video footage posted on YouTube showed rebel fighters on a pick up truck with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back firing erratically from inside the mountain town.

Statue of St. Thecla which stands in Maaloula

According to reports, the rebels have been pushed back to their base at the Safir hotel, in the mountains overlooking Maaloula.  Still, Christian farmers are at risk; a Christian cannot go up there to his land unless he is accompanied by a Muslim resident of the village.

 

UPDATE:  So just what happens when your town is overtaken by Syrian rebels associated with al Qaeda?  Breitbart offers this report this morning:

…A resident of the town said the rebels shouted “Allahu Akhbar” as they moved through the village, and proceeded to assault Christian homes and churches.

“They shot and killed people,” he said. “I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village. Where is President Obama to see what has befallen us?” Another witness stated, “I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, ‘Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded.’”

Pray for the people of Maalooula.

 

  • nannon31

    What kind of peace is Pope Francis envisioning as possible…with 6000 foreign jihadists trying to force Islam on Christians as they fight Syrian soldiers who themselves smash a statue of Mary. Catholics need one thing….evacuation from Syria and other hell holes. If the Pope called for a worldwide Catholic collection for evacuation from horrible countries, he could collect billions to effect such transfers to cooperating countries particularly in Latin American agrarian sites. Pray for evacuations to the Catholic continent.

    • Dale

      Nannon, as strange as it may sound, many Syrian Christians may not want to leave their homeland. Remaining in a familiar culture, with a shared language, shared history, and shared understanding was often important to Christians who fled the fighting in Iraq. So many of them moved to Syria, rather than take up offers to move to the West. That civil war once again enveloped these refugees is a cruel irony.

      Perhaps some Syrian Christians may want to move to Latin America. However, such a move would be a radical break with their past life, which many will not welcome. I suspect that most will desire, if they move at all, it would be to another Arab country. Not only will that be a familiar world to them, but it would make an eventual return to Syria more likely.

      Rescuing persons from imminent harm is vital, but it is a short term goal. Long-term, Syria needs peace. And the Christians there need to be given guarantees of safety and freedom, ideally where they are most comfortable.

      • nannon31

        Dale…you actually proved my point with the Iraqi example. Attachement and history and homeland are wonderful and both you and I would throw all of them overboard and move to protect our children. If not, we’re selfish. Syria is the very birthplace of our word for assassin via jihadists there centuries ago:

        http://terrorism.about.com/od/groupsleader1/p/Assassins.htm

  • nannon31

    Sunday AM…CNN reports al Nusra seized the town.

  • Erin Pascal

    Is it Muslim vs. Christian all over again? Why does the world regress? I thought we were done with this conflict. It’s like in the time after the death of Christ were Christians were persecuted, stoned, or beheaded. Oh God please save your people, they have suffered much. If only I can do something, but right now all I can offer is prayer for the children and the families who have lost their loved ones in this war.


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