“We have recently started a summer camp for the children of Aleppo. Initially there were 50 and then, in just a little while, it was up to 120 attending!” says Father Ibrahim, friar of the Custody of the Holy Land and Parish of Aleppo.
A courageous initiative, which has brought a festive spirit and joy amidst the rubble of a city under siege since 2012. For the motto of the camp, the words of St. Paul were selected: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!”
At the beginning, as always, there were some difficulties, says Father Ibrahim: “The parents at first were very scared at the thought of letting their children outside of their homes and didn’t have the courage to come to us and register them. So we phoned all of the families to convince them. The opening day was a great day of celebration, with singing and dancing, chocolates, sweets and even a clown! The parents were deeply moved and full of amazement, perhaps even more so than their children”.
Initially intended for children between ages six and ten, the friars of St. Francis Monastery soon had to extend inscriptions and welcome even younger children, starting from age three.
“And thanks to Providence and the Spirit that blows wherever it will, the number of volunteers who are aiding us in these activities is also increasing; and among them, unexpectedly, are many mothers who have become actively involved.”
And so for four days a week, the young of Aleppo now have a place where they can go to play, meet one another in a welcoming environment, and express their skills. Cooking courses are also planned, with the older ones preparing lunch, and then everyone joining in to eat together.
The Franciscan parish priest enthusiastically adds: “Here the Internet doesn’t function very much, so that the children and their parents are taken away from the disaster of ‘virtual relationships’, and must of necessity open themselves to the world of ‘real’ human relationships. This in fact is healthier for them from all points of view: human, psychological, intellectual and spiritual. The parents have repeatedly requested that the summer camp be open every day of the week, but we have responded that it is absolutely essential that the children have time to spend at home with them. We do not want to remove them from their families, substituting for them, and indeed it is essential that we work cooperatively with the families for their human growth”.
Many of the younger children are undernourished, so apart from the various activities in the summer camp they are given milk, “… as well as chocolates and sweets, to make them happy”.
Father Ibrahim sums up: “The real reason, at its deepest level, for what we are doing at this summer camp is that we want people, through the activities that we are offering, to be able to perceive the signs, however small, of the sensitivity of Christian charity. Charity that also involves a bit of milk or chocolates; that sometimes is taking care of a particular need or offering a small toy. It is in this way that suffering is purified, people’s eyes begin to be opened to, and their hearts feel, the presence of the Divine in their daily life, a Divine that expresses itself through the loving embrace of the Church. We wish to strengthen the experience, the perception of the face of Christ present, the tender face of God turned to the suffering people”.
The project “Emergency Syria: support for families struck by the conflict” ES/10250/A004, funded by the Italian Cooperation for development, prosecutes in Aleppo. More than 4.000 people where helped through the dispensation of foodstuffs and medicines.
It is possible to provide concrete support to the parish of Aleppo, and the other Franciscan centers in Syria. Every gesture of solidarity towards them is of fundamental importance.