For the last few years I have been translating letters from Syria for Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus. It began when a Maronite friend of mine sent me a letter from Bishop Nassar in French. I translated as best I could, with my high-school French and appropriately using the Babylon online translation page. Afterwards I sent the letter in English to Bishop Nassar. From that time on he continued to ask me to translate his letters. These letters are sent to the English-speaking world. Each one of them, filled with Christian hope, faith, and emotion, reminds me of letters from another Bishop of Syria, Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John.
“Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop,” wrote St. Ignatius. “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Looking toward the feast of this great martyr and saint (October 17) I have placed side by side the letters of two Bishops of Syria written during times of turbulence, Bishop Ignatius and our contemporary Archbishop Nassar.
+Ignatius Theophorus, Bishop of Antioch, Syria (35 or 50 – 98 to 117 A.D.)
“Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it].” Bishop Ignatius to the Romans, n. 9 “Remember me, as Jesus Christ also remembered you. Pray for the Church which is in Syria, whence I am led bound to Rome, being the last of the faithful who are there, even as I have been thought worthy to be chosen to show forth the honor of God. Farewell in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, our common hope.” Bishop Ignatius to the Ephesians, n. 21
+Samir Nassar, Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Syria
It seems that the Syrian crisis is the cruelest human drama since the Second World War. In the face of war and violence Jesus says “I am the door” (Jn. 10 : 9). “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). +Archbishop Samir Nassar
Meet Together Frequently for the Worship of God
Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end. +Bishop Ignatius to the Ephesians, n. 13
When Churches are Destroyed Christians are Scattered
Thanks to heroic priests in two neighborhoods, we launched the construction of a basement and an apartment for places of worship. The cathedral is far from faithful so we had to relocate near them. When churches are destroyed Christians are dispersed. These Christians, while in danger, organized to build two small chapels. Each person gives what he or she can for this work. Some pray a rosary for this intention. A feeling of joy and hope pervades their hearts and minds. One of the chapels will be dedicated to the Martyrs of Damascus. It is true that these projects will not advance without financial support from outside, but the fact of the faithful gather around these initiatives in these painful days, is itself generative of Christian hope and spiritual resurgence. +Archbishop Nassar to the World Wide Catholic Church, Lent 2014
Exhortations to Prayer and Humility
And pray without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be steadfast (Colossians 1:23) in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?), that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but you may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit. +Bishop Ignatius to the Ephesians, n.10
In Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament
Despite this tense atmosphere, the small flock of faithful expresses unwavering, courageous and firm faith. A new relationship to God is affirmed in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. They have the rosary in hand and will not easily leave the church as they are in solidarity with the poor and a long litany of martyrs, the seed of Christians. These Heroes of the Faith are the strength of the Church and the horizon of hope. +Archbishop Nassar to the World Wide Catholic Church, Christmas 2014
Christ Possessed of a Body after his Resurrection
For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.”And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.+ Bishop Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, n. 3
A Tomb Which Illuminates the Journey
To demonstrate his confidence in his fellow Muslims, Father Franz refused to leave the old city of Homs, where he was also the only priest to serve dozens of Christians abandoned by their pastors. He was martyred in Homs on April 7, 2014. There was no priest to celebrate his funeral. Father Franz was buried in the courtyard of the convent. He was buried by a small number of Muslim and Christian refugees who form a community of “cloistered” life, living with scarcity and in fear. His tomb now attracts a large number of Muslim and Christian visitors. By his life and death, Father Franz shows the way to the future in Syria through a message of brotherhood among men and women. Both in life and in death Abouna Franz is an apostle of love and peace embodying the life of his Master, witnessing the values of justice, truth, and total self-giving. +Archbishop Nassar to the World Wide Catholic Church, April 2014
You are God-Bearers
“You, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travelers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you.” Ignatius to the Ephesians, n 9.
Christ’s Sufferings Printed on their Bodies
The sufferings of Christ are printed in the bodies of the innocent children of Damascus. Just as the Holy Innocents, the infant Martyrs of Bethlehem, these children invoke the justice of Heaven. The blood of these children, in this land already flowing with blood and watered by the thousands of martyrs of 1860 fortifies the Biblical Faith that saw the arrival of Christianity even before St. Paul was converted and baptized. These innocent victims confirm the testimony of our heroic faithful who rely on your very welcome friendship and spiritual support. Tertullian in the second century said: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” +Archbishop Nassar to the World Wide Catholic Church, Holy Week 2014
Marriage and Family
But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God. +Bishop Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, n. 7
The precariousness of the Manger in Bethlehem brings consolation to these poor mothers crushed by intractable problems and despair. The reassuring presence of Joseph from the Holy family is source of jealousy for these thousands of families deprived of their dad, deprivation that nourishes the fear, anxiety and worry. The unemployed envy Joseph carpenter, who saves his family in need. Our neighbors do not want us as we welcome all refugees in the Near East. Our faithful spend their Christmas celebration in the freezing cold of their “household nativity” relying on the warmth of their faith under the tender gaze of the Holy Family. +Archbishop Nassar to the World Wide Catholic Church, Christmas 2013
Prayer of St. John Paul II for the Middle East
Hear my voice when I beg you to instill in the hearts of all humans, the wisdom of peace, the power of justice, and the joy of friendship. Hear my voice because I talk to you for multitudes which, in all countries and at all times do not want war and continue to pursue the path of peace. Hear my voice, and gives us the strength to always answer hatred with love, injustice with a total commitment to justice, and misery with sharing. Hear my voice, O God, and grant to the world, especially in the Middle East, your eternal peace.
Read the Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3836
 Martyrs of 1890 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860_Druze%E2%80%93Maronite_conflict
Featured Image, Ignatius of Antioch, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Church in Syria, Freeimages.com, Photographer: Mira Pavlakovic, (Public Domain)
Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Archbishop Samir Nassar http://www.oeuvre-orient.fr/ With Permission
Holy Family by Giorgio Vasari, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Copyright 2015 Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp.