As the editor of ACN’s regular reports on “Religious Freedom in the World,” Szymanski has heard stories from persecuted Christians in many parts of the world:
“When I hear the stories of those oppressed and my eyes cannot get any bigger, just listening to them. They tell me: ‘But Marcela, please, when you speak about us, ask them to pray for us. We want to be like you, to be able to read the Bible whenever we want, to go to temples that are open all day, to celebrate Christmas like you do.”
“Then comes to my mind the vision of dusty Bibles on shelves, closed churches, the strange Christmas that we lived recently … And I have to answer them: ‘No, I will not pray for you to be like us, but for us to be like you. And I and my neighbors would like to have your strong faith and hope in the future, and the strength to keep giving to others like you do,’” she said.
She shared the story of Archbishop Selwanos Petros al-Nemeh, the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Syria, who died of cancer last December at the age of 52.
“Selwanos was an orphan from a very young age, and he was raised by religious sisters, where he came to find his religious call, together with his brother,” she said.
“He worked tirelessly for the orphans of the region. Many remember his dark silhouette in the streets during the bombings when he was looking for the children to bring them back to safety.”
“One of those bombs killed his brother in a cathedral … in 2014. However, with or without bombings, he never stopped providing foster care for the children, and as soon as the bullets stopped, he reopened schools and new kindergartens.”
“Right in the middle of the war, in 2017, he came to Brussels, where I live, carrying large suitcases full of drawings by the children of Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus. The drawings were intended as letters to the politicians, asking them to increase humanitarian aid, and to show them what was their daily life …”
“On another occasion, I could tell you of the insults and humiliations Selwanos received from some European politicians. When I was there I was furious, but he had seen worse things in life. He promised to pray for them. He returned to Homs, where he served the poor until his very last breath.”
Szymanski held up one of the drawings from an 11-year-old Christian girl from Aleppo, who had depicted her memory of the time when Islamist terrorists from al-Nusra Front, which fought against the Syrian government in the Syrian war, attacked her family, killing her sister and brother in 2016.