Syria: Even though IS has been ousted from Al Qaryatayn the Christians will not be returning quickly

After the jihadist terror militia “Islamic State” (IS) was ousted from the Syrian city of Al Qaryatayn, a member of the local Catholic religious order was sceptical that the Christians from the city would be returning quickly. 

“The residents who have fled, both Christians and Muslims, are afraid. They fear that IS may come back again,” said Fr Jihad from the Syrian-Catholic religious order of Mar Musa said on Wednesday in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). 

“The swift return of the people is also dependent upon how long the city will remain a military zone. Further, infrastructure such as water and electricity has largely been destroyed. And besides, many residents no longer even live in Syria, but have fled to other countries.” 

The Syrian army was able to recapture the city early this week after it had been occupied by the terror militia since the beginning of last August. Many of the city’s residents fled. In addition to Father Jacques Mourad, a monk, and a companion, who were already kidnapped in May and released in October, at times large numbers of Christians from Al Qaryatayn were being held hostage by IS. 

Parts of the local Mar Elian monastery of the community of Mar Musa were destroyed immediately after the city was seized. Photographs released by IS showed bulldozers levelling the complex, sections of which dated back to the 5th century. “The archaeological part has been razed. Fortunately, however, the complex of buildings was not destroyed in its entirety” Father Jihad told Aid to the Church in Need. 

“The walls of the church are still standing, even though the roof is no longer there. The altar, unfortunately, was destroyed. They also smashed the sarcophagus of St. Elian.” However, it is a sign from God and a source of great consolation for the community, Father Jihad said, that the remains were not destroyed or stolen, but can still be found scattered there. 

“St. Elian is greatly revered by the Christians. Muslims also used to go on pilgrimage to his grave. We want to gather the holy relics and give them a worthy place again.” Father Jihad is confident that it will be possible to restore the smashed marble sarcophagus of the saint. “Until the possible restoration of the monastery, the remains could be taken to another place,” Father Jihad said. 

However, more important for the monk is spiritual renewal. 

“Of course we are attached to the monastery. We invested a great deal of effort to make it into a place of prayer and dialogue. In this, Aid to the Church in Need was vital in its support. But we are not attached to stones. Our Jerusalem is in heaven. And you don’t lose anything with God. Matter can be restored. A great deal more vital than the restoration of the stones and the recovery of the monastery is the reconciliation of hearts,” 

Father Jihad said, whose community has made the dialogue between Christians and Muslims an integral part of its focus. “Several years ago, we were grateful to the benefactors and those who help with prayers at Aid to the Church in Need for their help in building up the monastery. Unfortunately, it is now very heavily damaged,” Father Jihad emphasised. “We are therefore now asking those who pray to add Syria to their prayers. May hatred vanish from the hearts.” 

By Oliver Maksan
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