syria war

Monsignor Abu Khazen from Aleppo: confidence must be restored

Giacomo Pizzi3 March 2015

The Custody of the Holy Land through its brothers in Syria and Lebanon dedicates itself a little more each day for the victims of the conflicts in the Middle East. Syrian refugees, Iraqi and Kurdish displaced, many of them are pushing the doors of convents and churches to find some respite, to find something to eat, to get treatment, to educate their children… Just like St. Francis pronounced in his days: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”, the Franciscans have faced the rapid violence of the Syrian conflict. To be at first organized in the small circle of Franciscan monasteries scattered in Syria and Lebanon and then, little by little, and with the proliferation of security restrictions, agree with other religious and secular actors the mitigation of the needs. (…)

Monsignor Georges Abou Khazen Franciscan friar and Apostolic Vicariate of Aleppo, (…) gave a portrayal of the current situation of Christians in the Middle East: “I personally noticed that one of the main challenges for the Christians of the Middle East is the overcoming of our fears and the restoration of confidence. This confidence was shattered by what we have seen and experienced. But this lack of confidence prevents us to look ahead. Our challenge is to understand that our presence in the Middle East is a calling, a mission.” Monsignor Abu Khazen returned at greater length on the Syrian conflict and to what it has transformed or strengthened, despite the harshness of life: the ecumenism and the Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“We Christians are just a minority in Syria made up of several churches and we have never been so united.” Each Saturday the Catholic bishops gather and the last Saturday of every month we organize an ecumenical meeting that brings together all those who want it. “Young people who stayed push us; they are volunteers at the parish, go to Sunday school, get married, we baptize children, we celebrate holidays and international days … We want to remain a member of the Universal Church, life goes on.”

The predominantly Christian Aleppo neighbourhoods receive now many displaced Muslims. This is a new and fruitful experience for Bishop Abu Khazen. “We have developed new ways of meeting in this conflict. It was certainly not easy but I keep saying that it is very important that we welcome the displaced people. We must not give an excuse for exclusion or communalism. We must feed ourselves from this connivance, it is an ideology and believe me, many Muslims are surprised by the charity of the Christians in particular towards their children, women, old …“. He takes the example of a parish hall entrusted to the Waqf (Islamic charitable institution) and transformed into a reception house for the elderly, orphans, the disabled or the parish generator that allows students who wish to study when the power cuts are too long.

“The Syrian Islam is moderate”, exclaims Monsignor Abou-Khazen to whoever wants to listen. “It is far too easy to pit people against people and make amalgams”. He borrows the words of the Holy Father in his last letter: “Lent is a time to stop indifference, suffering of others is a call to conversion, we need to convert to Humans no matter who he is and what he believes“. In the dark Syrian night, Bishop George said he could see the light and if he can, then others are also capable. Facing the desire of emigration and insecurity, Monsignor George says to his little flock: “I am not leaving, I stay and I do not feel alone because I know that everywhere in the world we pray for Syria, Muslims thank you too, some of them have told me”.

A little relief might come through the new projects of the Association pro Terra Sancta, the NGO in support of the Custody of the Holy Land, which announces that through donations, in 2015, an Aleppo hospital run by the friars will be renovated (restoration of three operating rooms; two intensive care rooms with medicine distribution; management of hospital costs for the poor …) as well as reception centres that meet the basic needs. According to the estimation, the number of displaced inside Syria reaches more than 6 million people that cannot cope with the surge of prices.

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