Syrian Christians urge Pope to work for peace, help them go home

Mon May 26, 2014 6:22am EDT
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By Firas Makdesi and Kinda Makieh

LATAKIA Syria (Reuters) - Syrian Christians who fled a village near the border with Turkey after it was captured by Islamist rebels say they refuse to leave the country and urged Pope Francis to pray for them and help them return home.

In March, rebels including fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured the majority-Armenian village of Kasab in the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Thousands of people fled to the city of Latakia and accused hardline Sunni fighters of targeting Christians and desecrating holy sites. Rebels denied the accusations.

Christians interviewed by Reuters said they hoped Pope Francis, who visited Bethlehem on Sunday, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, would pray for peace in Syria.

"The Pope's visit is a holy one, we wish for him to work for peace and pray for peace in Syria," Father Miron Owadesyan said.

The Argentinean pope made an urgent appeal for an end to Syria's war on Saturday at the start of his first trip to the Holy Land as pontiff.

In the first days of the attack on Kasab, more than 1,500 people sought refuge in the Armenian Greek Orthodox church of the Virgin Mary in Latakia city 30 miles (49 km) away.

Most of them have since moved and now only about 100 people are living in the 1,200-year-old-church, mainly surviving on donations and support from the government.   Continued...