My dear friends
At the recent international meeting of bishops that I attend each February, one particularly poignant session enabled us to hear at first hand from bishops who live and work in situations of everyday violence against Christians. A number of African bishops contributed, but perhaps the most moving contributions came from a couple of Syrian bishops who were present.
Two years ago, two Syrian bishops - one of whom I happen to know through this annual gathering that I have been attending for more than ten years - were kidnapped by Islamic extremists and nothing has been heard of them since. They may still be prisoners or they may indeed have been murdered, but we continued to pray for them at our meeting this year as we have done since their kidnap. One of the bishops present this year - Bishop Armash Nalbandian, the Armenian Orthodox Bishop of Damascus – talked about the constant threat of violence against his people, even when they were at worship, but then said a remarkable and wonderful thing. He said that he had come to the conclusion that the only thing that keeps Syrian Christians from fleeing their homeland (where Christians have lived since the earliest years of Christianity) is knowing that they are being prayed for by other Christians throughout the world. Just before I left Rome for home, I had a brief chat with him and told him that I would ask the people of the diocese here to keep the Syrian Christians in their prayers; he said simply, “Just so that we may know we are not alone..”.
Never doubt the value of your prayers, and never doubt what they mean to other people. Please keep in your prayers our fellow Christians, wherever they may be, who each day must face the possibility of death from violence as a cost for faithful discipleship. It is the least that they deserve from us.