Last week Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, a Salesian, spoke out against US President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb Syria. Only two weeks after being officially recognised by the US as a Woman of Courage, she declared Trump’s move “a step backwards for peace”.

An anti-war nun is hardly novel but what she said next is significant. Sister Carolin said that she doubted President Assad was responsible for the chemical attack which prompted America’s intervention. Reflecting on the man who most leaders in the West regard as a monster, she added plainly: “I like my president.”

Among Syrians, Sister Carolin is not alone. Church leaders have also voiced doubts about the veracity of some of the reports concerning Pres-­ident Assad’s barbaric record as ruler.

In 2015, for instance, a senior leader of Syrian Christians, Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, claimed that President Assad was the victim of misrepresentation by the Western media where “manipulation, ignorance [and] the desire to learn the worst prevailed”.

At the same time, President Assad has made moves to earn the Church’s favour. During an interview last year, Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service how during a meeting the president had received him and six other bishops “like a gentleman, who was trying to listen to us, to our grief and problems”.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Church officials estimate that 80 per cent of Syria’s Christians have been forced to leave the region. But the patriarch said that Assad had told the bishops: “I need you to tell your Christian communities that Syria needs them.”

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