This week, a 75 year old Dutch priest paid with his life for serving the Syrian people. Father Frans was committed to staying in the city of Homs, Syria despite the war going on around him. The priest reportedly believed he could not abandon the Christians remaining in the town. He was killed by a masked gunman who entered the monastery and shot him.
The priest is just one among thousands of Syrian Christians daily persecuted for their faith.
The Syrian civil war is going into its fourth year and has claimed at least 120,000 lives. Although government officials attempt to monitor civilian brutality, Islamic extremists have been known to rob churches and kidnap, rape, and kill Christian women and children when police aren't present. Hundreds of these Christian residing in Syrian villages have watched not only their freedoms but their lives cruelly slip away right before their eyes. In response, the persecuted Christian communities in Syria cling to one another and pray.
As Islamic protesters conflict with government forces in an attempt to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian regime, thousands of Christians have lost their lives in the crossfire, as they are perceived to be supporters of the existing government.
Over the past year, a Christian woman named Hanna from Damascus, Syria has reported to Open Door contacts what life is like from day to day for a Christian in the war torn country. In her latest report, she says that while she writes, bombs fell around her, her husband, and her two children.
"A few days ago my relative was preparing Easter snacks in the kitchen when suddenly her life was over; a bomb fell through her apartment," she recalls," We didn't find her body."
She then relates the devastating events of Tuesday, when she and her family cried and prayed during the bombing of the Bab Touma, the old city of Damascus, where "a lot of Christians live."
Hanna recounts watching mortar fall on schoolchildren at the town square, wounding and killing many of them.
"In our school we gathered the children to pray for the victims. I told the children: no matter what bad things are happening around us, our God is still good; even if we're in danger of death, our God is still good and worthy of praise. So we raised our hands and started worshipping God. The parents of one of our Muslim pupils were present while we did that, and they were so impressed they said: "Our child is safe here. He is under the protection of God."
While Syrian Christians cling to their faith for comfort in the midst of warfare, Hanna says they are getting weary.
"God is here, but I'm getting so tired," she writes, "Tired of praying. Tired of crying. Sometimes it seems like there is no end to all this misery. I know God is in control, but sometimes I feel so hopeless. I regularly fall on my knees and cry out to Him about why all of this is happening."
Prayer, she says, is the only thing that gives her hope in the face of devastation.
"I praise God that He is protecting me and my family. Prayer gives me strength; it's a weapon in the spiritual battle that's going on here," she says.
Deacon Kevin Fournier echoes Hanna's belief in the power of prayer, urging Christians around the world to pray for those persecuted in Syria.
"Evil like this knows no bounds. It must be exposed by truth and then opposed by the only force able to vanquish it, the love of the God whose heart breaks for the victims; the God who is fully revealed in the Sacred Heart of His beloved Son which was pierced by the soldiers spear on Golgotha's Hill," he writes, "We MUST add the Christians in Syria to our daily, focused prayer. They are our brethren and need our prayer."