SYRIA/LEBANON: Mass exodus threatens future of Christianity

A a summer camp for young people in Lebanon.
A a summer camp for young people in Lebanon.

Desperate Christians in Syria and Lebanon “no longer have confidence in their country” and “there is no light at the end of the tunnel”, according to a Catholic Patriarch.

Christians in the Middle East are choosing to leave their homelands despite the Church encouraging them to remain, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Between 2016 and 2021, Syria’s Christian population decreased from 6.31 percent to 3.84 percent, according to ACN’s 2023 Religious Freedom in the World Report.

Patriarch Absi said that it is increasingly difficult to give hope to Christians in Syria and Lebanon, where most of his faithful live, and the young are particularly likely to leave.

He explained: “There have always been waves of emigration. Nowadays it is a mix of economic, social and political reasons.”

The last six years since the Patriarch has been in charge have been a difficult period with the civil war in Syria, the pandemic and extreme economic hardship in both Syria and Lebanon.

He said that the series of negative events have “prevented us from carrying out our projects more quickly”.

He added that the faithful “are desperate” and “they no longer have confidence in their country. That’s why they are leaving.

“We did a lot at the beginning, to keep them in the country, but the situation has not improved.

“We are still doing everything possible to help our faithful, to provide them with essential services. But we cannot replace the governments.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel, we do not see a short-term solution.

“Without support we can no longer convince them to stay.”

The Patriarch said that the situation in Syria could be improved if the West lifted the sanctions which are negatively impacting the civilian population.

He echoed the appeal made by other Middle Eastern Christian leaders in July, explaining: “I think that our friends can exert pressure in one way or another on their governments, and sometimes even on the religious leaders, to help in this direction or to ensure that the sanctions are lifted.”

He added: “We have noticed that ACN has doubled, and sometimes tripled, its aid during the last decade.

“The results are clearly visible, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, we can see that you really want to be present in Syria and Lebanon, in a special way.”

“It is not just financial or economic aid, it’s the spirit with which they [ACN] work, the generosity, the love, the smile.”

He concluded: “We give thanks to God for having sent us brothers and sisters of such calibre, who are committed Christians.”