“I am asking my priests to stay. That is our duty. We count on God’s grace. We must not be afraid. Providence won’t let us fall.”
Though still shaken up by a brutal Easter weekend bombardment of his city’s Christian quarter, Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo—Syria’s second largest city which has been the scene of conflict between the government and predominantly jihadist rebels for the last two years—sounds defiant.
“I am trying to give hope to the faithful,” he told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Have courage; hope will keep us going. Peace will come. And when that day comes, Syria will be a beautiful country.”
Sister Annie [last name withheld] has been holding out in the city for several years. She gave this account of the recent attacks attributed to rebel forces, possibly even jihadists associated with ISIS, which has been making moves recently in the direction of Aleppo: “Rocket attacks killed 14 Christians on Holy Saturday alone. Many were injured. Every day buses are taking Christian families away from the city, but there is not enough transport for all those who wish to leave.
“The people feel abandoned. Eight religious congregations are still persevering in Aleppo to help the people here. Before the fighting started, 70,000 Christians lived in the city—but 10,000 have left in a single week.”
Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal, based in Homs, is helping accommodate refugees from Aleppo. “Hundreds of families, in particular Christian families, have fled to the coastal regions and the Valley of the Christians, including Homs,“ he said, adding: “they have lost all of their possessions and are in need of everything: shelter, blankets, mattresses, and clothing. Some of the sick among the refugees depend on medicines.”
Appealing to Christians in the West, Sister Annie said: “The days ahead are expected to be tough for our people. I hope that thanks to your prayers and support it will not be like this. I am deeply moved by your help. May God bless you. We are united in the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary.”
“It’s crucial that the West takes action,” said Archbishop Jeanbart. “It can no longer be that people perish in such pitiable circumstances. We are marking the centenary of the Armenian and Assyrian-Chaldean genocide. History is repeating itself.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)