Churches have been vandalized, priests abducted. Last month the extremists overran Maaloula, a Christian-majority town so old that some of its people still speak a language from Jesus’ time.
On Tuesday a militant Muslim cleric, Sheik Omar al-Gharba, posted a YouTube video of himself smashing a blue-and-white statue of the Virgin Mary.
Al-Ghadban and the project’s most important backer, Gavrilov, weighed canceling it.
They consulted Syria’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yaziji. It was he who told them “Jesus would have done it.”
They began shipping the statue from Armenia to Lebanon. In August, while it was en route, Gavrilov, 49, suffered a fatal heart attack, al-Ghadban said.
Eventually the statue reached Syria.
“It was a miracle,” al-Ghadban said. “Nobody who participated in this expected this to succeed.”