By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BEIRUT, LEBANON (BosNewsLife)– The Bishop responsible for Maronite Christians in Europe warned the Western world Thursday, October 25, that recent deadly attacks in Christian districts of Beirut and Damascus could “unleash” a massive “new wave” of Christian refugees.
In remarks published by the ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ (ACN) group, Bishop Maroun Nasser Gemayel said Christians in the Middle East were longing for freedom and security and could therefore “be tempted to emigrate” to Europe or the United States, “despite their great love of their homeland.”
Bishop Gemayel said the situation in Syria’s capital Damascus already was dramatic, and “now many, including those in [Lebanon’s capital] Beirut, will believe that they can no longer live in safety even in the Christian quarters” despite their “great love of their homeland.”
Anti-Christian attacks last Friday, October 19 in Beirut and on Sunday, October 21, in Syria’s capital Damascus killed eight and ten people respectively while over a hundred were injured, according to church sources.
It comes as another setback for Maronites and other Christians who the bishop said remained truth to their faith despite being scattered across the region.
The bishop, who was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to oversee the Maronite Christians, said schools and other facilities are being set up to accommodate the expected growing number of Maronites.
There are already some 150,000 Lebanese living in Europe, including 80,000 Maronites, according to church estimates.
Bishop Gemayel said it was his task “to keep alive the spirit of the Church of Antioch, one of the oldest in Christianity, as well as to cultivate the unity of Lebanese Christians in Europe.”
ACN said it supports various Christian projects in Lebanon and Syria, following the outbreak of civil war there.
The charity claimed it has given aid to refugees from Syria and Iraq who arrive in Lebanon “completely destitute and have found initial asylum there, often having escaped with their bare lives.”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says Lebanon has become the third country in the region to see its population of registered Syrian refugees and people waiting for registration exceeding the 100,000 mark.
In Turkey, a similar number is reported while officials in Egypt said as many as 150,000 Syrians are in the country, though most have not yet been registered as refugees.
It comes amid concerns that Christians will be once again be in the middle of a civil war outside Syria itself, amid ongoing deadly clashes in Lebanon.
Before he was killed in the October 19 car bomb blast in Beirut, General Wissam al-Hassan, the intelligence chief of Lebanon’s internal security forces, warned that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad wanted to spread the conflict.
“It will take a couple of years and more than 100,000 killed,” he said in an interview. For the Assad regime, he added, “one of the solutions of the Syrian conflict is to move it outside Syria. He survives by making it a regional conflict.”