FOR 22 YEARS, Michel Baladi, 43, worked at a printing house. In 2003, he married Rima, 38, with whom he has three children: Mariel, age 13; Christel, age 10; Georges, age 7. They live in Aleppo, Syria and in recent years learned the difference between mortar shells and missiles—the hard way. Michel, who is a Melkite, tells his story:
“We left our house in 2012, when the war reached our neighborhood. We moved to a place near the Melkite Catholic Cathedral. But when the war spread there, we had to rent an apartment in another district.”
“The militants stole from us, grabbed everything they could; we were left with only the clothes on our back. Our children were forced to leave school. Mariel, our daughter, fell behind, unable to continue studying. We saw bombs in our neighborhood, along every kind of weapon. We didn’t have anything left.”
Still, the family never considered leaving Aleppo, or Syria altogether. Says Michel: “These are our roots. This is our land, our country. We were born here, and we want to die here, in the land of our fathers. Many people have left the country, and I am sure that that they are still unhappy. They are far from their land and their families. And we have great faith in God. If He is with us, who can prevail against us?”
Faith has always been essential to the Baladi family, who were raised in their district church, and always attended Mass, and worked closely with the parish priest. Every time they were robbed or forced to relocate, says Michel, “there was a small light that gave us the power to continue. There was always someone to help.”
He attributes his family’s survival to the aid of the Melkite Church, the work of the bishops and priests: “They have done great work in the humanitarian field. They provide cash aid and monthly food baskets, which is how we survived these past six years.”
Church programs have also enabled the family to achieve financial independence and contribute to their community: “My wife and I wanted to be more productive, to depend on ourselves; we would spend time discussing our future. One night, we came up with the idea to open a sidewalk shop.”
They were financially supported by the Melkites’ ‘Build to Stay’ initiative, which aims to transition the community from a state of emergency to one of stability. In addition to health centers and housing rehabilitation, the Church offers micro-loans to beneficiaries like Michel’s family, loans that neither accrue interest nor carry a fixed deadline. The local Melkite Church, headed by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, hopes that this financial support will empower families to work again.
For Michel and Rima, the formula has worked. The couple has already discussed what they might do next: “We want to return to our old home and develop this small corner into a big shop. We’ve had some difficulties—custom holds that women cannot stand on the sidewalk and sell things to strangers, but we need to work and produce. And we hope that in the future our country will be in better shape. We are not afraid of other religions; we have lived with Muslims for a long time, and we will continue living together. But now we focus on our work, with the help of our Church.”
Says Michel: “God never left us. We have suffered, yes, but now we especially feel the presence of our God. I am able to send my children to school regularly and provide them with all that they need. And Christel has made her First Communion. It was a great joy for us as a family.”
In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need spent more than $6.6M in support of Christians in Syria, the bulk of it spent on humanitarian aid for impoverished and displaced faithful. This summer, the organization unveiled plans for $3M in funding of 40 pastoral and humanitarian projects benefiting Syrian Christians.
Joseph Jebran writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity 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)