Aleppo. The general winter delivers the last blows to a city that desperately needs spring. This year too many died from the cold. The queues at the petrol stations promise nothing good, and confirm the sad intuition with which we arrived from Damascus. Another city on its knees, without fuel, without electricity. At night the sounds of war have stopped, but at times the bombs still keep the people in the Azizieh neighborhood awake.
The parish of St. Francis of Father Ibrahim continues to help everyone, and in the days spent in the convent the volunteers alternate relentlessly in this miraculous charity machine. They distribute oil cans, food, diapers for children. To anyone, in the spirit that has always inspired the Franciscans.
“We are now reduced to the small remainder”. Mons. Abou Khazen welcomes us on the threshold of his residence, next to the place where a nun was literally disintegrated by a missile. “His mother is still waiting for his return, because his body was never found,” he tells us. The thirst for justice of this people is great. “But reconciliation, which is forgiveness, is even greater than justice.” The apostolic vicar traces – with these words – the way of peace. Although it is humanly difficult to think of forgiveness when walking for miles of rubble. Not just materials, but also human.
People who have suffered trauma, violence, lost family, friends. At the Terre Sainte College, where we recently started a project to welcome people with psychological problems, we meet some children of the war. “My daughter suffered a lot because of the war. It has become violent and aggressive. ” Maryam is moved when she thinks back to these difficult years. Then the little girl, as soon as she grew up, “started asking questions about the war and the situation, which for her was unsustainable“.
“I feel my daughter has no chance.” To speak is the mother of another child with serious mental delays. “In my village I was desperate: nobody wanted to play with her. Then we found this place, with other children like her: every day they help her develop her abilities and the talents God gave her ”. He smiles, wiping his tears.
Sometimes it is enough to look at their drawings, or just see them draw, to understand: “I observed how they sharply crushed their pencils, to chase out the demons they had inside”, the psychologist in charge of following the boys tells us. Some do not show themselves: they are afraid of us, afraid of others, perhaps remembering years of abuse and violence. “Fortunately we have many success stories, of children who are slowly overcoming traumas”, tells us Father Firas Lutfi, head of the center and of the project funded by ATS pro Terra Sancta, while in the car he takes us to the poorest areas of the city. “It will take years, but we cannot, we must not stop”.
While visiting a neighborhood in the suburbs, we stare at the face of a boy ruined by sores. In slippers, with a dusty green sweater and torn trousers, try playing with other kids close to him. Nobody wants to be near us, they avoid him, maybe because of his looks, his face dirty and ruined by big red spots. A few minutes later we find out that this child has a serious illness and in a few months – if nothing is done right away – he will probably die. “The other guys think it’s contagious, so nobody wants to stand by him.”
Neither the other children, nor the state. Father Firas accompanies us on a visit to these places, visiting the project “A name and a future“, dedicated to children born of violence or who need psychological support. A project born from the friendship with the Mufti of Aleppo, which we meet in his studio, next to the millennial citadel. “What unites us is charity”. Father Firas, an old friend of his. He is happy to be with him and with us, because we have bet on this path of acceptance, “the right way”.
So much so that – dismissing us – he says: “Do not be afraid, whoever is on the side of the truth will win”. He probably didn’t mean military victory. The challenge is even greater: it concerns the victory of an entire people, over its future. And looking at what has been done, and how much is being done to help Aleppo, one must agree with him.