Death of a Deacon in Syria

Middle_east map Turkey Iran Saudi Arabia Iraq SyriaA Damascus bomb blast which killed a deacon in training shows that a Christian district of the city is in acute danger, according to a leading Catholic bishop.

Benjamin Camil, 35, was on his way home on Tuesday morning, March 26th, after distributing food to destitute people, when he was killed instantly by the explosive.

In a message sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus called Mr. Camil “a martyr” and said his death showed that the area, home to many Christians, was now a target for attacks.

He said, “The tragic death of Benjamin Camil shows that nobody is safe anymore, whether fighter or peaceful civilian.”

The archbishop said that until now, the faithful had still been attending religious services, adding, “But the death of Benjamin Camil puts a question mark over the ability of our faithful to move freely.”

Reporting that so far Church attendance during Holy Week was down by more than 50 percent, he said, “At one time our quarter was spared from the conflict. Now, however, an increasing number of shells are being fired.”

“In view of the intensity of the fighting that is breaking out everywhere, worse is to come.”

Archbishop Nassar paid tribute to Mr. Camil, saying, “Becoming a martyr during Holy Week crowns Camil with grace.”

The prelate said, “He was so close to everyone. He was always present, with an open ear, and was always ready to help and share his modest possessions with those most in need.”

The archbishop said that during the conflict Mr. Camil had been “giving a helping hand with the overload of social work during these painful times.”

The Catholic prelate said that Mr. Camil had been based at the Maronite Archbishopric in Damascus, had looked after the sacristy and was in charge of the reception desk.

Mr. Camil was preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate.

Commenting on Mr. Camil’s death, the archbishop pondered, “What if Camil had made another choice?”

Contemplating the timing and meaning of the death, the archbishop further commented, “To die during Holy Week with the Crucified, to serve and praise forever the Risen Savior and to beg for peace for his martyred country.”

Describing a Christian decline in Damascus, Archbishop Nassar said that people coming for communion had fallen by 60 percent since the fighting began two years ago, and that two of the four Maronite parishes had closed.

He said one parish, which in 2002 still had 30 baptisms, only recorded three last year.

The archbishop said that meanwhile the archdiocese was struggling to cope with the influx of displaced people.

He said, “The misery is great.”

As a Catholic charity for oppressed Christians, helping refugees and displaced people escaping persecution, Aid to the Church in Need has prioritized aid for victims of the crisis in Syria.

Channeling help through aid relief operations overseen by the bishops, ACN has given basic food, shelter and medicine for victims in Syria and those who have fled to neighboring countries, notably Lebanon.

Last month, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Fr. Andrzej Halemba led a fact-finding team to the region to assess aid options and priorities.

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org