DAMASCUS, Syria, December 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Maronite Archbishop of Damascus has written a letter describing the rejection of church closures and mandated Communion in the hand by the Catholic faithful, observing that they are “showing their trust in Divine Providence.”
Archbishop Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Damascus, penned the letter entitled “Overcoming Fear,” describing the situation endured generally by Catholics in Syria, but also with specific relation to the recent COVID-19 situation.
Agenzia Fides, the news service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, reported on the Archbishop’s message, which has been written in light of the upcoming Christmas season. A copy, with a slightly different translation, can be found on the Walsingham Blog Facebook page.
The Archbishop describes in painful detail the hardships endured by Catholics in Syria, noting that there is a state of “real economic hardship.” There are “never-ending queues outside the bakers and the petrol stations,” as well as “a lack of domestic gas, and galloping inflation.”
However, Nassar particularly notes the reaction of the faithful to the proposed closure of churches as a supposed attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. “Faced with Covid-19 the faithful have protested against the locking of the churches and have continued coming to daily Mass,” he said.
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Agenzia Fides even used the term “rebelled” in their translation, saying that “the faithful rebelled against the closure of churches and insisted on participating in large numbers in the daily Mass.”
Indeed, not only that, but the faithful have also resisted the move to mandate reception of Holy Communion in the hand, choosing to receive on the tongue. “Many feel unable to follow the directives of the Bishops to receive Holy Communion in the hand and insist on receiving it on the tongue as they would normally, so defying the pandemic and showing their trust in Divine Providence.”
Archbishop Nassar also called attention to the detrimental effect which lockdown measures are having on the population, saying that fear and financial hardship are greatly increased: “Covid-19 has made the social life of the people almost unbearable, and has added to their fear and solitude.”
“The closure of the neighbouring borders, coupled with an obligatory Corona virus test at each crossing is an extra expense, and at times a real problem for the families; taxis often cannot run and those without work or resources suffer even more hardship. The problems are aggravated especially in the medical and hospital sections which are faced with the growing numbers of doctors who are leaving the country, and a lack of available medicines.”
Commenting on the Archbishop’s letter, Fides writes that his description “is that of a martyred people and a nation almost destroyed, where the decline in violence and bombing gives way to ‘a harsh economic war’.”
However, the crucial aspect of the letter is the manner in which it highlights the prominence which the Syrian faithful attribute to their faith. Whilst many bishops and priests in western countries are closing churches and stipulating that Communion must be received on the hand instead of the tongue, Archbishop Nassar records that the churches are full of people “showing their trust in Divine Providence.”
His letter hints that the fervent defence of their right to worship is perhaps due to the hardship of life endured by the Syrian Catholics, and their preferred trust in God in the time of restrictions and confusion surrounding COVID-19.
Since Pentecost, Nassar says, the church in Damascus has been “living through a time of prayerful reflection.” It is seeking “a new way of reaching out to others with a newly formed pastoral approach.”
Closing the letter, the Archbishop poses a question relating to the future of the Church in Syria: “Will we know how to continue this journey to be able to celebrate true pardon before the Divine Child?”
During an interview given to Vatican News in February of this year, Archbishop Nassar underscored the resilience of the Catholic hierarchy in Syria. Despite the war, “we are still there. All bishops and priests, still there under the war, under the danger,” he said.
In an open letter published in May, Catholic clergy led by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Joseph Zen, and Janis Pujats reminded politicians around the world that “the state has no right to interfere, for any reason whatsoever, in the sovereignty of the church.”
“This autonomy and freedom are an innate right that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given her for the pursuit of her proper ends. For this reason, as pastors we firmly assert the right to decide autonomously on the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, just as we claim absolute autonomy in matters falling within our immediate jurisdiction, such as liturgical norms and ways of administering Communion and the Sacraments,” the signatories stated.