A senior Catholic leader in Syria is asking young Christians to stay in the war-torn country despite the ongoing violence and persecution they face, noting that parishes are being emptied and Christianity is disappearing from the region.
"The almost communal wave of youth emigration, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq breaks my heart, wounding me deeply and dealing me a deadly blow," Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III said in an open letter, according to Catholic Herald.
"Given this tsunami of emigration ... what future is left for the Church? What will become of our homeland? What will become of our parishes and institutions?" Gregorios asked.
Christians in Syria have found themselves in the crossfire of a four-year-old war between President Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups seeking to take down his regime. They have been the victims of major bombings that have destroyed countless churches and entire neighborhoods in cities throughout the country.
Christians have also been heavily targeted by the Islamic State terror group, which has kidnapped hundreds of Assyrians in numerous raids, demanding ransoms for the victims and threatening the women with being turned into sex slaves.
As many as 450,000 Christian Syrians have fled their homes since 2011, and are now either internally displaced or living abroad as refugees, the Herald noted.
Gregorios recognized the problems Christians who remain in Syria face, but still begged them to stay for the Church.
"Despite all your suffering, stay! Be patient! Don't emigrate! Stay for the Church, your homeland, for Syria and its future! Stay! Do stay," the Catholic leader pleaded.
Other Christian leaders, such as Bishop Yatron Koliana of the Assyrian Church of the East in Lebanon, have said that as many as 15,000 families in Syria might be in danger from Islamic militants.
Koliana said that many of the displaced Assyrians have a desire to return to their communities, but that will depend on "strong countries that in one way or another affect the Syrian crisis."
"We very much hope that countries such as Russia and the United States will hear our call for help from their Christian brothers in the Middle East," the bishop said.
Humanitarian groups, such as the American Mesopotamian Organization, have warned that IS forces are carrying out a mass ethno-religious slaughter, and criticized world leaders for not providing an adequate response.
"Although we appreciated the efforts of the Republic of France for calling an emergency session of the Security Council last March to discuss the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians, Yezidis and other ethno-religious minorities of Iraq and Syria, no action has yet been taken to halt this ongoing slaughter. It is as if the world community thinks that the situation will resolve itself if it's ignored," said AMO Chairman David William Lazar in July.