by Elinor Mitchell
Early this month, a mortar shell hit the Vatican embassy in Damascus, damaging the building’s roof, but injuring none. The shell, which was allegedly fired by Syrian rebels, hit the embassy around 6:30 a.m., long before employees began regular work. According to Fr. Federico Lombardi, “given the hour, there were only material damages, not to people.” No one was hurt, but for Christians in Syria, as well as the people who work at the embassy, the attack had a very real impact.
According to NBC news, it is still unclear whether or not the embassy was targeted. Its position in the Syrian capital—in the wealthy Maliki neighborhood— may put it especially at risk, and according to the Jerusalem Post, this is just one of at least eight attacks at the same site. Since July, it’s estimated that the embassy has been hit eight to ten times, suggesting that the rebels may be singling out Syrian Christians. Syria’s rebel regime, the group attempting to oust President Bashar Assad, regularly targets areas like the one around the embassy. Thanks to its proximity to several other embassies, as well as the homes of many military and government officials, the Maliki neighborhood is an ideal target.
The embassy’s locale may be to blame for its vulnerability, but Christians continue to be left in the fallout of Syria’s now 31-month long civil war. Though they are not labeled as a “target” per se, Syrian Christians have certainly been one of the many causalities of the conflict. This month’s attack on the Vatican’s embassy is not an isolated incident. Only a few weeks prior to the shelling at Damascus, the rebel regime seized Sadad, a small city northeast of Damascus. Sadad is a mostly Orthodox town, and according to reports, Islamist rebels took the town on October 21. Rebels manipulated Sadad’s citizens, and used them as puppets to assert an advantage over Assad. According to the Catholic News Agency, rebels forced Christians and their families to act as “human shields” to stop Assad’s army from taking back the town. By the time the standoff ended, 45 Syrians were dead. Churches in Sadad were left in ruin, and Christian Syrians everywhere were left asking, “why?” The event, though shocking, is just one of many similar stories, including this month’s attack on the Vatican’s embassy.