I should like to present to you this detailed report on the current situation of the Archeparchy of Homs.
- Situation of the Archeparchy today
After visiting the parishes, priests and faithful and carefully considering their suffering and needs, I should like to explain to you the situation of the Archeparchy of Homs:
The Archeparchy of Homs has suffered greatly because of the painful events experienced across Syria. Our people are in a deplorable condition, scattered inside and outside the country, fleeing from death, destruction and instability and seeking security, stability, and daily bread.
Approximately 1,800 Greek Catholic families (known to us), have abandoned our parishes and are dispersed in Homs, Damascus, Safita, Tartus, the Valley of the Christians and in safer areas. Many of them are living below the poverty line, but their attachment to their land, their faith in God, the Holy Virgin and their Church have incited them to unite with one another to resist these difficult and painful circumstances.
- Social situation
With regard to the social situation, the faithful of the Archeparchy are suffering today from very difficult conditions. The high cost of living, due to elevated prices of raw materials and food products, is exhausting our faithful. Despite the fact that prices are rising, wages have not increased, posing a significant inflation problem. Many people have lost their jobs after factories were destroyed and stores closed. Today, most families depend for their living on charities.
Despite what the priests in the field have done and what they have been able to offer their parishioners in terms of social and spiritual services, the role of the Church has remained limited in this crisis due to lack of financial resources, which left it incapable of unifying its children as much as people were expecting.
- Current Statistics
Due to the tragic events that have affected the Archeparchy’s towns and villages, we must take into consideration the following:
- About 1,800 families have been displaced from their homes to safer and more stable places, but they still all need monthly help with health care and materials.
- Some families have not left their homes, so are still suffering the ravages of war, misery, and poverty. They need to have a permanent monthly allowance. The role of our Church is very important in providing support, especially for the sick, disabled and elderly among them. There are currently some 665 such families and that number continues to grow.
- So far our Archeparchy has suffered some 100 fatalities and there are 26 missing persons whose fate is at present unknown, though they may have been tortured and killed.
- In September 2012, the opposition began extorting from the Christians of Yabrud one million two hundred thousand Syrian pounds protection money every month. This monthly sum is still being paid. So far, these people have paid up twelve million Syrian pounds in total.
- Despite all the difficult circumstances in the locality, the Archeparchy of Yabrud opened a shelter to house 175 families, providing them with food and medical services costing an estimated 2.7 million Syrian Pounds. Yet the Christians of Yabrud have received no external financial assistance.
- Statistics also show that Christian families in our Archeparchy are near the poverty line because of the lack of jobs and the high cost of living ... (We append all necessary statistics.)
- Financial situation
I should like to thank His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III, for his cooperation and understanding of the situation of the Archeparchy during this crisis. He has provided priests’ stipends and helped many of our faithful. It should be noted that our Church’s means are limited to meeting the needs of those suffering real hardship.
I also appreciate the co-operation of all bishops and Churches in Homs in this difficult crisis. My thanks and gratitude go to the charities that have helped provide much-needed assistance, and special thanks for their great service go to Father Ziyad Hilal S.J., Sister Georgina Habash of the Good Shepherd Sisters and their assistants.
The financial situation of our Archeparchy is difficult and painful. Since my installation, I have received a sum of forty-five thousand U.S. dollars from Caritas MONA and this amount was distributed to 1100 families.
Other aid reaches families through:
- Monthly subsidies from Red Crescent and other charities distributed by the Jesuits
- Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Caritas Syria, Church in Need, L’Œuvred'Orient.
- Caritas - though since February 2013 this charity has, for unknown reasons, unfortunately stopped supporting the city of Homs.
- Some priests have distributed financial aid to Christian families in need.
Since I took charge of the Archeparchy on December 20th, 2012 and after being informed about the financial situation of the Archeparchy, I have noticed that:
- There are only 96000 Syrian Pounds in our bank account.
- The Patriarch pays the salaries of priests; in 2012 we received 5,636,800 Syrian Pounds and in 2013 the sum of 1,430,000 Syrian Pounds.
- Parish finances need to be reorganized in accordance with the requirements Church law, after financial and economic study.
- The Archeparchy is suffering a catastrophic financial situation: there is no income, because of the war. Most churches and shrines are occupied and warehouses, stores and factories have been demolished.
- Monthly expenditure
- Salaries of priests and other employees, estimated at 600,000 Syrian pounds per month.
- Eparchial running costs (travel, car maintenance, heating, generators, cooking, communications, etc.) estimated at 350,000 Syrian pounds per month.
- Various: (rented accommodation for priests, pastoral care and health insurance) estimated at 1,000,000 Syrian pounds per year.
- The situation of priests
First of all, I should like to thank the priests individually (16 priests and a deacon) for their efforts, sacrifices, services, and prayers in their parishes. I thank them also for their parental and fraternal solidarity with our faithful, whether displaced or still locally resident. During my first meeting with them (Zaidal 29/05/2013), I urged them to work in unity and faith to be a good example for the faithful, especially as I had heard rumours to the effect that they had quit their parishes.
At this meeting, and after listening to each and all, I asked them to present reports on their parishes, and discovered the following:
Firstly, four priests have lost their homes. Those priests are Nadra Louis, Issam Kassouha in Qusair, Abdallah Koumz in Bab El-Sibaa, Ibrahim Ghadir at the monastery of St. Elijah. They are now living with their families in rented accommodation.
Secondly, we need to improve their living conditions by increasing their salaries, as a priest’s salary before the crisis was equivalent to $400, but has now become worth just $170, an insufficient amount for a priest and his family.
Thirdly, we must strive and work on unifying them and giving them spiritual and cultural nourishment, which can be done through monthly meetings and annual retreats.
Fourthly, we need to reach out and help them financially and morally in these difficult and painful circumstances, so they can repair their homes and live peacefully with their families. In this way, they can take spiritual care of our faithful.
Fifthly, we must facilitate the work of the Presbyteral Council and the functioning of the eparchial offices at all levels.
- Spiritual and pastoral situation
In this current crisis, we have noticed a great return to faith and prayer. People go to church and attend liturgical celebrations and services. The priests also go beyond the call of duty to ensure pastoral assistance even in difficult circumstances.
- The situation of the Archeparchial house, churches, and shrines
A - Cathedral and Archeparchial house
I could not reach them, as they are still under the control of insurgents. They have been bombed, wrecked and looted as shown in the attached photos. The destruction and devastation has forced the Archbishop to take up residence in rented accommodation in Zaydal in order to be able to take care of the administrative and spiritual needs of the Archeparchy.
B - Church in Qusair
During my visit to the city of Qusair, I saw how our church had been wrecked, its main altar destroyed and offensive graffiti sprayed on its walls (see attached photos). The vicarage and Christian Education Centre have been vandalised. We shall have to prepare a detailed specialist assessment of the cost of repairs. (This will be communicated when ready.)
C - Monastery of the Prophet Elijah (Rableh)
This large building was the target of the worst ravages: destruction of icons, statues of the Virgin Mary and Prophet Elijah ... The whole site has been laid waste, the monastery’s headquarters and perimeter wall… All the contents of the priest's office have been stolen including furniture and documents ... This means that the initial estimate for the restoration of the monastery is 250 million Syrian pounds.
D - Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary (Rableh)
This sanctuary has been subject to theft. All documents have vanished. The Sanctuary remains inaccessible so no estimate for damage is possible.
E - Church Hall Bab El-Sibaa
This building has been subjected to theft. Everything is destroyed, even the roof of the church which belongs to the Jesuit Fathers.
Many families’ houses were destroyed, especially in Qusair. In the city of Homs, many factories were destroyed, especially in Yabrud.
From this survey, we can see that the Archeparchy is in a very difficult situation at all levels, spiritual, social and economic. It is evident that the Archbishop’s resources are almost non-existent. After my visit to Yabrud and Homs and other parishes, when I met with the priests and some lay persons, and after my meetings with my brother bishops of other communities in Homs, I think the Church in this beloved region of Syria is in real danger if we do not react fast enough. The Church today is more than ever called to be a welcoming Servant, and Sign-post for all its children.
As a pastor, I am appealing to all my children and every person of good will for solidarity, unity, and support. Our Church needs spiritual, financial, medical, administrative and psychological assistance,. Our Church and our children need safe places where they can live and find the food, medical supplies and health care that they need.
Urgent basic needs are:
- Ten thousand dollars per month for salaries of priests and ordinary expenses in the Archdiocese
- Fifty thousand dollars per month to help displaced families with food, education, and even house rent, etc.
Finally I pray our God, saying: “Lord, look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted.” (Psalm 80: 14-15) And I repeat with our Holy Scriptures: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” (Psalm 127: 1)
I urge Your Beatitude and Your Excellencies to take into account the tragic situation of the Archeparchy of Homs and to help us meet our obligations with hope, faith, and love.
I pray God to watch over our children, soothe our pain and shorten the time of trial. I implore him to have mercy on the departed victims and give comfort to their fathers and mothers, to widows and widowers. O Lord, grant peace to our country, to our souls and to our families. We implore the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin, and Most Pure Mother of God, who has suffered much before the cross and the death of her Son, but was blessed with the joy of the Resurrection.
God bless all the benefactors and all charitable institutions and those who are in charge them. May God grant us his resurrection, peace, love and hope!
+Archbishop Youhanna Abdo Arbash
Metropolitan of Homs, Hama and Yabrud