Father Rodrigo Miranda is a priest from Chile. But it was in Syria, among the oppressed Christian community, that he learned what it really meant to be a priest.
“They wake us up to the essential and important things in life,” he told the Spanish daily ABC. The witness of the persecuted Christians in Syria is “an antidote for the mediocre and decadent world of our societies.”
Fr. Miranda is a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. He lived in Aleppo, Syria from March 2011 until late 2014, when he was forced to leave the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the country’s ongoing civil war, while millions have been displaced from their homes.
The war has affected church attendance in the outlying areas.
“On the weekends we used to have between 250 and 300 people, now we have 15,” the priest said. “More people go to the churches in the center of town because they’re more protected. Since we’re a minority, we all know each other. We know by first and last name those who have been killed.”
Though the war has changed life for Syria’s Christians, their faith endures.
“In all the years I was in Syria, I never heard one person complain against God. Just the opposite. They thank God every day,” Fr. Miranda said. “When they tell you the most terrible stories they always finish by saying ‘But thanks be to God we’re alive, we can come to church.’ The Christians in the Middle East have a different temperament. Every time there’s a bombardment, the church is filled up. I don’t see sad faces, although that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering.”
He sees a contrast with the experience of Christianity in the West.
“In the West you’ve got to put on a whole Hollywood style pastoral ministry to attract young people to the parish,” he said. “In Aleppo many times the young people sat down to talk about what would happen if the Islamic rebels came into their neighborhoods to kill them. They asked me: ‘Father, is it true that you’ve got to give your life for Christ?’ These were the things they talked about. I learned to be a priest in Syria.”
According to Father Miranda, the Christian population in Syria has gone from 10 percent to just 2 percent because they’re targeted not just by the Islamic State group, but also by the Syrian opposition.
“The Church in Aleppo continues to be very fervent, very devoted, with a lot of activity. We of the Latin Rite are a minority within the minority,” the young priest said.
The Catholic Church’s different rites continue to supply aid, the priest said. And this is not just material aid, but rather, they act “continually to offer hope.”