SOME CHRISTIAN IRAQI refugees in Damascus, driven out by death threats and with only the clothes they stood up in, had taken to prostitution, the Chaldean Roman Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, Bishop Antoine Audo SJ, said in London last week.
“This is a big problem, and we don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “I have asked the Little Sisters of Jesus to help us. The reason is poverty, and in Syria there are no regulations and no laws to defend them [those who work as prosttutes]. It is a new problem to have prostitution in this quantity in a Christian community.”
But the Bishop also spoke of the 1000 Iraqi Christian catechists that were being prepared in Damascus, and the plans to open a new high school that would serve both Iraqis and Syrians. Although Syria had initally welcomed the 1.2 million refugees, 60,000 of whom were Christian, it had now closed its borders because of fear of terrorism.
Bishop Audo was in London to support the work of the charity, Iraqi Christians in Need. He said that Christians in Syria were opposed to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. “In work, in university, in the streets, more and more ladies are covered. And today I saw in London a woman with a child and she was totally covered up — in London!
“This is insupportable to me. We cannot accept this kind of pressure for Christians. This is wrong, terrible, dangerous. This is a deep feeling. [In Syria] the young people say to themselves, ‘I can’t live in this atmosphere in this kind of society.’”
The Bishop said it was essential that Christians remain in the Middle East. The Church wanted to help Muslims to accept modernity. “If we have lived in peace with Islam, it will be possible for the West to do so, too.
“But if we fail, as we see now in Iraq, it will be dangerous for the Middle East — and for Europe, too.
I defend the presence of the Christians in the Middle East with their openness towards both the Islamic world and the Western world.”
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, appealed on Wednesday to the kidnappers who have been holding five British hostages in Iraq since 29 May. Lord Carey read out an appeal by the hostages’ families, and added: “I would like to add my own personal appeal at this holy time of Eid and Christmas . . . that we may see the safe return home of these men as soon as possible.”