The Christian youth of Damascus now follow in Sauls footsteps, acting as missionaries for outlying Christian communities where liturgy might be celebrated in a home because the village has no church. Before setting out, these young missionaries must undergo training that includes the study of St. Pauls letters to the nascent Christian church.
Although the church does its best by running an employment office that scouts out jobs and matches worker with work, todays apostles must nevertheless help other Christians face unemployment and the problems encountered by low-paid laborers who cannot support their families. The youths run fund-raisers to help the disabled, and they help heal family rifts through their good Christian will. Archbishop Isidore calls them Rusul Al Masiih, or apostles of Christ.
These girls and boys are the yeast, he says, using bounteous gestures to show how Christian spirit and action grow.
The secular, though Muslim-led, Syrian government gives full recognition to Christianity and the countrys Christian community, which comprises about 12 percent of Syrias population. Understandably the Muslim day of prayer, Friday, is the official day off. The Christians have adjusted Sunday school is held on Friday. In Dummar, a planned town just outside Damascus, the government has donated land for a church. Greek Orthodox and Greek-Melkite Catholics will pool their resources, including labor, to build the church, which they will then share.
But there is no doubt that help from abroad is appreciated. The European Parliament has been exemplary. They have set up vocational and technical schools that have benefitted many Christian Syrians. Through CNEWAs Beirut office, grants have helped with the construction or renovation of churches, convents, housing and schools.
Another good spot for a visiting Christian to see would be the sidewalk in front of the visa section of the United States Embassy. Get there by midnight. That is when the line starts to form. Watch as hundreds of Syrians and Lebanese young, old, men, women stand and wait to apply for a visa. Then go watch similar lines form in front of other Western embassies.
The U.S. government does not grant many visas. The Europeans do not grant many visas either, but their vocational schools in Syria teach marketable skills that will lessen the desire to emigrate. Archbishop Isidore implores, Dont let Damascus become a museum of Christianity. Dont support hegra (emigration). Help Christians to stay, not leave.
Archbishop Isidores wisdom in this regard comes from experience. He served 15 years in Rome and saw how the emigrés lose the East without being welcomed by the West. He worries about the 12 percent that was, not long ago, 20 percent. If our numbers continue to fall, we will dissolve. Again he gestures descriptively with his hands.
He works hard with the other Christian communities of Damascus and talks, not about my church, but about the church of Jesus Christ.
Only by chance am I a Greek-Melkite Catholic, he points out.
The Damascene Christian community is quite diverse.
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