Despite daunting challenges in predominantly Muslim societies, many followers of Jesus continue to bear brave witness to their faith.
SEDNAYA, Syria — Many know of the mythical Phoenix, the bird legend said to have the power to regenerate itself from the ashes of its predecessor in a Middle-Eastern desert. Given the incredible persecution faced by contemporary Christians in the same region, an analogy between the faithful in the Middle East and the mythological fowl might seem unlikely.
However, Christian leaders insist the Church in some Arab-speaking lands is indeed resurrecting out of the cinders of its burned houses of worship, the beheaded bodies of its faithful and the long-standing discrimination it has faced since Islam violently wrested this part of the world from Christendom, beginning in the seventh century.
In a concrete symbol of this heroic Christian witness, this October, a huge, monumental bronze statue of Our Lord — modeled on a similar one overlooking Rio de Janeiro — was erected near the Syrian Christian town of Sednaya, on an ancient pilgrimage route that once took the faithful from Constantinople to the Holy Land.
While such a construction would be remarkable anywhere, it is even more so, given that it happened amidst the violent conflict rending the Middle East asunder in recent years. Ever since the advent of the so-called Arab Spring in December 2010, the region has seen an extraordinary amount of violence.
And while the carnage has touched everyone, it has hit the Christian population particularly hard, leading some to say the Arab Spring has birthed a Christian Autumn.
For example, on Sept. 7, al Qaeda-backed jihadists took the ancient town of Maaloula, an ancient Christian village and one of the last places in the world that has Aramaic, the language of Jesus, as its mother tongue. The Islamists forced the conversion of a handful of people and beheaded three others, whom Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III calls “the martyrs of Maaloula.”