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Syria Christians Pray for Peace in Damascus as Rebels Close In

Image: Syria Christians Pray for Peace in Damascus as Rebels Close In

By Megan Anderle   |   Monday, 09 Sep 2013 08:18 AM

As the United States pressed for a military strike against Syria, more than 1,000 Christians held a prayer vigil for peace in Damascus.

Citizens went to Our Lady of Dormition, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal cathedral in the city to plea for peace on Saturday, chanting "God protect Syria" during prayers led by the Patriarch Gregory III Laham.

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"We thank all those who, at the United Nations, are working for peace so that there would not be any strike on Syria," the patriarch told worshippers, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal church is an eastern rite that recognizes the authority of the Vatican. Pope Francis – who led a mass vigil at the Vatican on Saturday with tens of thousands – called for a "cry for peace," opposing all fighting including the military strikes against the Syrian regime being pushed by the United States and France.

Syria has been embroiled in a 30-month civil war that has killed more than 110,000 people, according to the UN. Damascus was spared of that violence until Wednesday, when conflict erupted.

Maalula, an ancient Christian town 45 minutes from Damascus where residents speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, has been seized by an al Qaeda-linked rebel group. Islamist rebels of the al-Nusra Front gained control Saturday night, according to CNN.

Syria's 2 million Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population, are often targeted for suspected sympathies to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Citizens fear the same fate as Christians in the war in Iraq, where militants targeted them and spurred many to leave the country. Many Syrians have already left for Lebanon monasteries, as churches are destroyed throughout the nation and church officials go missing.

Maalula, which is famous for being home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, is nearly empty of its inhabitants. Only around 50 people remain there, according to a resident who left the area in the past days, according to the Associated Press.

One woman at the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal cathedral on Saturday came to pray for her people, she told the AFP.

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"It is because of my village, Maalula," she said, sobbing.

Pope Francis wrote earlier this week to leaders of the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia, urging them to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution."

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