Death of a deacon
A Damascus bomb blast which killed a deacon in training shows that a Christian district of the city is in acute danger – according to a leading Catholic bishop.
Benjamin Camil, 35, was on his way home on Tuesday morning after distributing food to destitute people when he was killed instantly by the explosive.
In a message sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus called Mr Camil "a martyr" and said his death showed that the area, home to many Christians, was now a target for attacks.
He said: "The tragic death of Benjamin Camil shows that nobody is safe any more, whether fighter or peaceful civilian."
The archbishop said that until now, the faithful had still been attending religious services, adding: "But the death of Benjamin Camil puts a question mark over the ability of our faithful to move freely."
Reporting that so far Church attendance during Holy Week was down by more than 50 per cent, he said: "At one time our quarter was spared from the conflict. Now however an increasing number of shells are being fired.
"In view of the intensity of the fighting that is breaking out everywhere, worse is to come."
Archbishop Nassar paid tribute to Mr Camil, saying: "Becoming a martyr during Holy Week crowns Camil with grace."
The prelate said: "He was so close to everyone. He was always present, with an open ear, and was always ready to help and share his modest possessions with those most in need."
The archbishop said that during the conflict Mr Camil had been "giving a helping hand with the overload of social work during these painful times".
The Catholic prelate said that Mr Camil had been based at the Maronite Archbishopric in Damascus, had looked after the sacristy and was in charge of the reception desk.
Mr Camil was preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate.
Commenting on Mr Camil's death, the archbishop pondered: "What if Camil had made another choice?
"To die during Holy Week with the Crucified, to serve and praise forever the Risen Saviour and to beg for peace for his martyred country."
Describing a Christian decline in Damascus, Archbishop Nassar said that people coming for communion had fallen by 60 per cent since the fighting began two years ago, and that two of the four Maronite parishes had closed.
He said one parish, which in 2002 still had 30 baptisms, only recorded three last year.
The archbishop said that meanwhile the archdiocese was struggling to cope with the influx of displaced people.
He said: "The misery is great."
As a Catholic charity for oppressed Christians, helping refugees and displaced people escaping persecution, Aid to the Church in Need has prioritised aid for victims of the crisis in Syria.
Channelling help through aid relief operations overseen by the bishops, ACN has given basic food, shelter and medicine for victims in Syria and those who have fled to neighbouring countries, notably Lebanon.
Last month, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba led a fact-finding team to the region to assess aid options.
Source: Aid to the Church in Need