After serious deliberation, the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, a group of monks living in territory occupied by the Islamic State in Syria, have made the decision to stay on despite the dangers, insisting that a good shepherd never abandons his sheep.
In recent days, the Prior of the community, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, took a survey among his confreres asking whether whether in the face of new risks of violence and persecution it was better to stay on with the few remaining Christians or to move to safer territory.
The number of local Christians in the parishes of the Syrian villages under the control of Islamist forces continues to dwindle as many leave on their own or are driven out. Moreover, outright persecution against the Christians has also increased. Not long ago, one of the Franciscans, Father Dhiya Azziz, was abducted by Islamist militants, and only released after 12 days of detention.
After receiving a good number of responses, Father Pizzaballa said that “almost all have clearly expressed the view that it is only right to remain in the villages, without consideration for the number of parishioners or the danger involved.”
Pizzaballa also reflected that the Franciscans of the Custody “have never left the places and people that the Church has entrusted to it, even at risk of danger,” adding that “not a few of our martyrs, even in recent times, died in circumstances not too dissimilar from the current situation.”
“A shepherd does not abandon his flock,” he said, “and does not ask whether his sheep are worth much or little, or if they are numerous or young. For a shepherd all the sheep are important and he loves them all the same way.”
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