In Syria, the pursuit of peace has become a driving passion of the nation's Christian leaders. As violence worsens, longstanding Christian support for the regime of President Bashar Assad is weakening. A growing number of Christians believe regime change is necessary even if they don't dare go public with their views.
Starting in March 2011, Syrians took part in Arab Spring protests against President Assad. Violence soon broke out as soldiers fired at unarmed demonstrators in Daraa. Analysts estimate that in the past 16 months, 14,000 people have died—and the number is growing. In late May, militias in Houla slaughtered 108 civilians, including 49 children and 35 women. One 11-year-old witnessed his family being murdered.
Christians and other religious leaders are working alongside activists to avert a slide into all-out civil war. Christian leaders say every effort must be made to stop a replay of the kind of sectarian violence that split Iraq along religious-ethnic fault lines. Syria has a Sunni Muslim majority, but the minority Alawite Muslim sect holds most of the power. Christians, mostly Orthodox and Catholic, make up about 9 percent of Syria's 22 million people. Evangelicals compose less than 1 percent of the population.
One large Christian ministry active in Syria is the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. "Christians over the past six months have found themselves a new vocation: to be the peacemakers of Syria," Carl Hétu, director of the agency's Canadian office, told a Canadian news outlet. Hétu thinks that the warring sects might listen to the Christians' call for a ceasefire and dialogue, "because they are well respected." In comments to Open Doors, the religious freedom ministry, one Damascus ...1