Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Tuesday, 12 December 2023
Emigration, sanctions, and corruption hurt Syria

Sina Hartert/ :

In March 2023, Father Jacques Mourad, a former hostage of extremist terrorists, was appointed Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Homs, Syria. Recently, he hosted a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and spoke about the country’s challenges, forgiveness, and trust in God.


The war in Syria appears to be frozen, but the Syrian population continues to live under very difficult circumstances. What are the biggest challenges facing your country?

The serious challenges facing our country are the results of corruption and the oppressive sanctions of Syria, which directly affect the people. I think especially of education, which is in a very serious crisis. All our children and young people in schools and universities are affected. Education is the future of our country, and children and teachers have the right to a good working environment, yet teachers’ salaries – only 20 to 21 dollars per month – are below the level of human dignity.

Another major source of concern is mass emigration. We see families leaving Syria because they want to ensure a better life for their children. They have lost hope and confidence in this country, and they do not want their children to live in a country where they are not safe. There are also many young people who choose to emigrate, and this also poses considerable problems. Since most of them are men, young Christian women end up marrying Muslims, and then they must convert – that’s the law. And they often leave behind elderly people who need to be cared for.


What is the Church doing in this situation?

We have a big responsibility. However, we cannot help everywhere. In these few months as bishop, I have noticed how weak and helpless we are as a Church, and as bishops. I agree with the Pope that we need help from the laity.

Therefore, it is wonderful to have the concrete, “incarnate” presence of organizations like ACN in Syria, which give witness to true love and solidarity.


You are a monk of the Deir Mar Musa community. How did you personally experience the problem of youth emigration when you were still in the Mar Elian monastery, before you became a bishop?

During the war, most Christian houses in nearby An-Nabk were destroyed, but no one left the town, because with the support of different charities, like ACN, we very quickly helped people rebuild their houses. And then we launched several projects for children and young people. It was easy to be close to the local people, as there were only about 125 Christian families in the area. Nevertheless, I think that the work in An-Nabk should be an example for all Churches in Syria. We shouldn’t just give out food, but also sponsor various projects – schools, music, and art, for example – so that people sense that they have a right to a life here. That kind of help can stop emigration. But it requires bishops, priests, and lay people working together.


When you were held hostage for five months in 2015 by Islamist terrorists, you underwent considerable suffering. How is forgiveness possible after this experience?

Forgiveness is not something that we “create.” Forgiveness means giving a place in our hearts to God, so that He can forgive in us. As Jesus said on the Cross, “Father, forgive them!”

Each time a terrorist came into the bathroom where I was held, I felt compassion for him. Although I was also confronted with rage and other strong emotions, in that moment, I didn’t have any such feelings. Only compassion. We need a lot of humility to accept that we ourselves are not capable of something like this. All that we are capable of comes from God, including forgiveness.


Do the experiences from those days as a hostage continue to resonate in your daily life?

The most important thing that I learned from that time was to place myself trustingly in God’s hands. Since then, I have walked with the Lord. I pray this prayer of Charles de Foucauld every day, and five months as a hostage gave me the opportunity to live out the prayer very concretely:

“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”

In various places, the Church in Syria is striving to support people by providing for their most essential needs. You are faced with the challenge of the Church not turning into an NGO.

Yes, above all, there is the danger that people become too dependent on the help of the Church. And it is important that priests are freed from activities that could be considered social work. Therefore, it is important to have a committee with lay people that manages the various projects. We must also involve young people more and trust them. I value their commitment very much. They have new and refreshing ideas, and we need them to mold the future.


Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is funding a Christmas project to distribute more than 3,000 gifts to children and people with disabilities. The charity is also supporting clergy in the Archdiocese of Homs with Mass offerings – their only source of income. In addition, ACN gives subsistence assistance for married priests who would otherwise be unable to support their families and at risk of emigrating. ACN also supports summer camps for children, young people, scouts, and choirs every year. These camps play an essential role in healing the traumas of war and the psychological problems arising from the instability and poverty that plague the country.