The pain of war and its consequences suffered in Syria for the past 12 years was followed by the recent earthquake that devastated it…..
That blessed land where St. Paul saw and heard the voice of Jesus Christ, where from persecutor of Christians he became one of the greatest Apostles of the Church; that flourishing Syria, famous for its beauty (before the war), for the good relations that allowed Christians and Muslims to live together in the same country; that Syria is today a land ravaged by a new scourge and its children show themselves worthy of their martyred land.
The recent earthquake added pain upon pain, and added great insecurity among the people. Buildings that were already precarious because of the bombardments of a time, collapsed during the night of February 5 like a house of cards, over so many victims and others fell later during the aftershocks, many of which are still felt today. Many people are wandering the streets and sleeping in their cars, not knowing where to go…amidst the cruel cold of this time of year.
How can we not feel compassion for these brothers and sisters? The pain of these people is ours and we want to make it our own. We became missionaries, to give witness to the way of living and existing of the Incarnate Word, so that everyone could contemplate Christ when they see our charity; so that they might experience His mercy when we bring them comfort and consolation; in short, that they can experience that even in the darkest hours, the Light that is Christ arises to illuminate, to unite, to give an opportunity to do good. The priests of our religious family arrived in 2009 and were soon joined by sisters from our Institute. Our missionaries have been here through all the time of this difficult war (2012-2017) and remain in a silent way, demonstrating to these tried and tested people that the Church does not leave them alone….even when it seems that the world has forgotten.
In Aleppo, the main buildings, churches and schools were opened to help the thousands of victims. In the Latin Bishopric where we live, the doors were also opened wide to help many families whose homes are no longer safe. Currently, we have received 90 people in the bishopric and many others that we have helped outside. Halls and rooms became one big camp, mattresses on the floor and communal meals, to exchange words of encouragement with each other.
What is the one comment that stands out? Some might think that complaints abound, wondering why such a great catastrophe has come again? No… The words that have flowed from their lips have been words of thanksgiving to God for having saved them once again. Because they know that life is a gift from God and that in everything that happens there is a design of His love. It is not we who govern our lives as if everything ends here, but we are made for Heaven. There is a Father who is Provident! This is the vision of the people of Aleppo. Every day, even in the midst of pain, is a new thanksgiving. This inner peace in the midst of trials can only be the fruit of union with God, and for this reason, and for the fortitude that we have been able to witness throughout these painful years, it is an honor to serve this people!
In addition to the two houses which are used to house young university students with poor resources, in the care of Father Enrique Gonzalez, IVE (the young men), and Mother Mariam Ilige, SSVM (the young women), our Congregation is dedicated to helping the most needy in one of the poorest areas of Aleppo, Midan, headed by Fr. Hugo Alaniz, IVE (parish priest of the area) who has organized and trained young professionals (doctors, pharmacists, engineers, architects, accountants) to discern who really needs help and make the work of charity more effective by means of food coupons, medicines for chronic or serious illnesses, medical assistance, house repairs, etc.
The mission also stands out for its work with children and adolescents, providing them with school assistance, food, various courses, oratory and catechesis. On the other hand, it benefits young people with micro-enterprises, job and professional training, so that they can rebuild their lives and have a decent job to support their families.
But above all, the mission of our priests is to comfort the people with the Bread of the Angels and the rest of the sacraments that nourish the soul and are the only consolation.
As soon as the earthquake passed, Father Enrique went with some sisters and volunteers to visit the lonely elderly and needy families whom we usually help. What a joy to see someone asking about them, to know if they had survived! Those elderly people live almost beridden and our priests, sisters and volunteers visit them regularly bringing them food and medicine. That visit, like all the visits that will continue to be made, was for them a great source of emotion, receiving a glimpse of the light and charity of Christ.
As in every moment of difficulty, courageous and generous choices arise, flashes of God’s merciful love. Somar, one of the young men in the university residence run by our priests, is studying medicine and has been volunteering as a fireman. Instead of the rest he deserved after so much effort in the first days, having the possibility of returning to his family, he chose to continue helping and went to one of the most devastated areas, to join the line of heroes who continue to search for lives among the rubble, because they know that time is running out. This young man went where he was most needed at this moment, regardless of fatigue, hunger, sleepless nights, without bending under the weight of the cross: BECAUSE THIS I THE TIME TO SHINE THE LIGHT OF CHRIST.
“Let your light shine before men” Jesus asked his disciples…not to glory in that light for our own sake, but “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
May God grant that in this martyred land the examples of courageous young men and women who look beyond their own welfare may never cease; may many priests and religious set out to conquer this blessed land by means of the Charity of Christ that urges us on(2 Cor 5:14) and that will never fail. (cf. 1 Cor 13:8).
Hna. Maria del Cielo
Missionary in the Holy Land