Syria – Some 240 000 dead – of whom 12 000 children – 12 million people need emergency relief, millions of refugees and displaced: that’s according to the latest statistics the record of the armed conflict which has hit Syria for the past four years.
Many Christian opted to flee away in huge numbers; many chose to stay, namely in Aleppo, in the North of the country, taken between two fires, namely that of Bachar Al Assad’s army and that of the rebels. Two priests and three nuns from the Institute of the Incarnate Word are there for the moment. It was for the purpose of visiting them that Fr Marcelo, Provincial of this Argentine Congregation, went to Aleppo.
How do you describe the situation over there?
There are many damaged neighborhoods round Aleppo. Rebels called “moderate” and fundamentalist surround the city. Sounds of shooting is heard regularly, exchange of fires, raids.
Living conditions are obviously very hard and tough. Families live on their water reserves, for there’s not much left at their disposal. No power. Generators were installed, and citizens could buy amperes for 1 or 2 hours a day. Shops are open, so are markets; public transportation is functional. Life goes on…
You have met the local Christian communities. In which conditions do they live in? What is their state of mind?
Christians are just like others. They suffer, and are tempted by emigration. No official statistics, but it is estimated that nearly 60 % of Aleppo Christians have fled.
Those who stayed – a majority of Catholics – carry on living, despite everything, in an amazing spirit of faith and hope. They however are confronted with a dilemma, facing the danger; some fear the coming of Daesh (ISIS) and consider fleeing away. Others are determined to stay, no matter what. “Syria is my life, my homeland – many people told me – I do not want to leave”. For me, this experience should be lived as a time of spiritual purification for our Christian brothers of Syria.
What message did you convey to them?
A message of closeness, of solidarity above anything else. They are thrilled hearing Pope Francis and Christians all over the world praying for them. They appreciate as well the presence of missionaries among them; missionaries who chose to come to Syria and to stay, despite the war. Finally they are the ones, Christians and missionaries, who pass on to us a message of maturity, patience, faith and hope.
Interview conducted by Manuella Affejee
Source: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem