800 Christians Sacrificed Their Lives in Syrian Town but God Brings Triumph Over Death: Archbishop
A Syrian archbishop who marked Easter in Homs, one of the towns most devastated by extremist attacks, has said that as many as 700 to 800 Christians died for their faith.
"Christianity is rich with numerous martyrs who died because of their faith ... [A]round 700-800 Christian martyrs sacrificed their life in the old town of Homs," said Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Selwanos Petros Al-Nemeh of Homs and Hama.
Al-Nemeh told Catholic relief group Aid to the Church in Need on Tuesday:
"We will live the resurrection. We hope for peace and happiness, because God gives us the triumph over death. We pray our God to give peace to the whole world, that we can live peacefully and happily together."
He explained that the ongoing war in Syria has left people without jobs and living in poor conditions. He estimated that close to half of Syria's entire Christian population has fled the country since 2011.
"Christians would love to stay and be bound to their country because this is their land ... What is preventing them from staying is the instability in their work, the insecurity and vulnerability that they are facing, economic difficulties and dreadful living conditions," the archbishop said.
He explained that people were "bewildered by the immensity of the damage in the city [of Homs]," and said that more help is urgently needed.
Those in need include families that have been internally displaced and need to get back to their former homes, as well as refugees who have fled to Lebanon and other countries.
"Those who went to Lebanon await for some more stability to come back to Syria and they are willing to return whereas, I think, for those who left for Europe, it will be difficult to return," Al-Nemeh noted.
Some good news is that around 2,000 houses have now been repaired in Homs.
"We need a lot of support to rebuild and allow people to return. We hope that organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need will continue to support the re-construction effort, so that we can reach out to more Christian families in need," he said.
Homs has suffered due to the ongoing civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups, with several reports of large massacres in and around the area over the year.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported of one such attack in 2013, when over 100 were slaughtered.
"The Observatory has the names of 14 members of one family, including three children, and information on other families who were completely killed, including one of 32 people," said SOHR head Rami Abdelrahman.
The residents have also been targeted by the Islamic State terror group, with towns in the Homs province captured and then liberated in recent years.
Even as IS was losing ground in Syria last year, it managed to recapture Al-Qaryatain in October, where several Christian families were living. As many as 116 civilians were reportedly killed by IS during the latest three-week occupation, before the Syrian army was able to recapture it.