‘In February of 2014, the jihadists completely ravaged our church. They destroyed the icons, shredded the Books of Gospels and burnt down the altar. They also stole anything they could get their hands on.’

Fr. George Hadad, the Melkite priest in Yabroud (50 miles north of the capital Damascus) is still heartbroken by the desecration of the church. The town fell under the control of rebel forces in 2011 including the jihadist Al-Nusra brigade, who made the Christians’ lives hard. Al-Nusra soldiers used explosives to remove the cross from the church.

Fr. George said: ‘Fortunately, the damage was not as extensive as we had feared. The Blessed Virgin had protected Yabroud. The Muslims of Yabroud are also saying this. They revere the Blessed Virgin just as we do.

“In fact, we have always got on well with the Muslims of Yabroud. During the occupation there were a few who collaborated with the jihadists – but this was a small minority of uneducated people. The Muslims even helped the Christians to safeguard me whenever I left the house.’

Before the war about 3,500 Christians lived in Yabroud. Most left, but almost 80 per cent have returned since the town was retaken in March 2014.

Aid to the Church in Need is supporting Fr. George and the Christians in Yabroud with numerous projects, providing food and other essentials for 1,500 families – and to keep the Faith alive in these dark times ACN is provided a donation so catechesis can start again at 10 centres in the region, including one in Yabroud for 480 young Catholics.

Local Melkite Archbishop Jean Arbach said: ‘Thankfully we are able to continue with our pastoral work, despite the difficulties. We thank Aid to the Church in Need for this.

“Our clergy are doing what they can. I am very proud that the priests stayed with their congregations, even in difficult situations. I trust that God will give us peace through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.’

This article can be found in Mirror 0715.