September 2014

Syria: the account of Custodian Pizzaballa after his visit to Aleppo

After his recent visit to Syria, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa – Custodian of the Holy Landand president of the Association pro Terra Sancta –explains what he has seen in the massacred city of Aleppo. In his words we can find hope, and we hear that it is still possible, in an ocean of suffering and violence, that strangers from different faiths can help each other when facing common emergencies.

The city of Aleppo has been without water for months and the only lifeline can be found in private wells. Obviously, not everyone can have one. In addition to this, they are also lacking electricity (they don’t have more than two hours a day), and it is impossible to obtain water without a generator. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to find fuel for the generator, and therefore it’s very expensive… In short, it is impossible for a normal family to get by.In fact it is impossible for the great majority of the population who have remained here, most of them poor people who do not know where else to go. It is the main institutions that have access to the well: mosques, churches, hospitals, etc. I have seen with my own eyes Christians and Muslims queuing at the church to get some water, and Christians taking back water for their Muslim neighbours, and viceversa.

In our convent at the Terra Sancta College, in Aleppo,there isn’t a generator, but our Muslim neighbours have one. The other neighbours, all of them Muslims, are doing a collection to get the fuel, the neighbour keeps the generator and the friars get the water for the neighbourhood.

The Jesuits, with theirJesuit Relief Service, have started to use a structure belonging to the Franciscan nuns in Aleppo and have organised a kitchen for whole neighbourhoods. More than 10,000 meals are given out everyday by the convent. The supplies arrive from Muslim organisations, the nuns are in charge of organising like only they can do, and volunteers, both Christians and Muslims, take food regularly for the most in need… It is important to point out that moving about in the city is very dangerous and no-one can really tell, once they set off, whether they will ever come back. However there are still many people who go out and risk their lives to do something for others; not only for their own, but for others, without adjectives.

During my stay in Aleppo – explains Father Pizzaballa –our neighbours, the cathedral and the Catholic bishopric were hit twice. The first one was the church, which was destroyed by the insurgents. The second one was the bishopric, hit by the government forces, to be in equal terms! In both cases everyone, without distinction, has given their all to help, support and encourage. Even just by being close to each other. In fact, very often there isn’t much that can be done but to witness this drama helplessly.”

Widening his analysis to the whole of the region, the Custodian of the Holy Land insists that “the Middle East has an urgent and dramatic need to build a new path for its own future, which they can only build together, with all the diverse souls that make it, and not putting people against each other. Christians, Muslims, Kurds, Jews and all the other religious and ethnic communities are an integral part of life in these countries and will never disappear.”

We continue to support the charity work of the Franciscan friars in the Middle East, especially in Syria, where the friars are risking their own lives by staying next to the population who haven’t left the country. Please DONATE NOW to help us take water, food, medicines, electricity, clothes and essential goods to the Franciscan convents in Syria. Every contribution is crucial.

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