Our trip to Syria
After a two day visit to Damascus, we arrived in Aleppo. Here the great bell of the church of Saint Francis is almost hidden behind the remains of century-old buildings. Still, what remains defended by a mass of debris is an imposing solid structure. It is one of the five standing churches of the city; all the other churches have been destroyed. The parish community today looks at the short truce with hope; but it has already been violated.
“They started the bombing, again”, they tell us . “they are launching missiles on us”. A few meters from the Latin parish the most important match of this long and absurd war is being played: the battle to win Aleppo. Night time explosions constantly remind us about it. But during these Easter days, people here are surprisingly joyful. Their joy is not explicable from a human point of view. The parishioners helped by the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land keep on thanking us: “Shukran”, they say, “thank you”.
They are grateful for the little help we are able to give them together with those “strange” brown clothed brothers. And they are grateful because we are there among them, to share the joy of the Resurrection. “Thank you! Thanks with all my heart to the Association pro Terra Sancta friends, for what you have done and for what you will do for us”. The Franciscan parish priest is a raging river at the end of the Easter Vigil. He deliberately pronounces these words in Italian in order to reach everyone. He thanks all the supporters and those who have helped the parish in any possible way during winter. “With the money collected we could relieve the suffering during a season that has been terrible.”, Fr. Lufti tells us; and he is right.
He lives in Aleppo together with other four brothers. In the convent, where we stay, water and light are only available for a few hours. From eleven in the evening there is total darkness. Nothing moves in the streets, Aleppo becomes a ghost town. We are just a few meters far from the area which is occupied by rebels. At the same time though, in one of these narrow streets of the neighborhood, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land bring us to see that even among the debris, life still flourishes here and there.
“Thanks to the many contributions we received, we could restore some houses for those who no longer had a place to stay”. Among them there is George, an engineer. He lost his house three times, because he was always too close to the boundary line as it moved along with the bombing. Even his office was completely destroyed. George keeps on thanking us too. “Thank God I’m alive, the Lord loves me. The Lord has spared my life, and I will always praise him because of it.” “A faith that takes your breath away” Fr. Samar OFM told us.
In 40 square meters, not far from George’s house, we meet Alexander. He is a doctor, a surgery specialist. He is a widower, because of the war. And a year ago, he also lost his son, Issa, killed by a mortar. “Jesus is my only hope.” He says. “This is what I learned, through the suffering of having lost the only son and a wife who were taken away by war lords.” The parish church, a place that before he used to go to only on Sundays, has now become his home. “The friars were close friends to me, more than anyone else. When I had nothing they gave me food. Through them I experienced the presence and love of the Lord. I will never leave this place.”
Simon and Rula live down the street, they are husband and wife. Less than two years ago they lost their two children. The parish is helping them to rebuild the house. “A mortar landed on the the balcony where our two little onese, aged 3 to 7 years, were playing.” The balcony is exploded and our children ended up literally in pieces.” The day of the funeral Rula cried out all her despair and kept on screaming for the pain. She wanted to open the small coffins to give one last kiss to her children, or what remained of them. Then, after some months, a miracle happened. The Franciscans gave her the strength to forgive and another small child arrived.
A child they decided to call Angelo: “The Angel that the Lord sent us from Heaven while we thought we had lost everything” Rula said.