Christians view Syria as haven in unstable region

Wed Jun 9, 2010 12:17pm EDT
 
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By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Church bells mingle with calls to prayer from mosques in the Old City of Damascus, home to Christian communities rooted here long before the Islamic era.

"Many Muslims feel they own the truth. Many Christians do too," said Mayssa Rumman, who runs a tiny, lovingly restored hotel in Bab Touma, a Christian quarter of the Old City.

"But we don't fight about it and it doesn't stop us from being neighbors or from working with each other," she said.

Syria's dwindling Christians coexist with their Muslim compatriots in a country many of them see as a safe haven, in a region where religious minorities often struggle for survival.

Pope Benedict XVI is so worried about how Christians are faring in a conflict-prone Middle East that he has called bishops to the Vatican in October to consider their plight.

A document he presented on Sunday during a visit to Cyprus blames the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the Iraq war, divisions in Lebanon and rising political Islam in Egypt for accelerating migration that disproportionately erodes the Christian presence.

Syria remains a relatively benign place for Christians, who nevertheless fear any spillover of regional conflicts and the rise of Islamist movements that might restrict their freedoms.

Muslims and Christians enjoy equal rights here, apart from a constitutional stipulation that the president must be a Muslim.   Continued...

 
<p>Tourists walk in front of the Roman Catholic Patriarchate in the Old City in Damascus June 9, 2010. Syria's dwindling Christians coexist with their Muslim compatriots in a country many of them see as a safe haven, in a region where religious minorities often struggle for survival. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri</p>