QARA, Syria, NOV. 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- An act of vandalism in the Syrian town of Qara has changed into a story of forgiveness and reconciliation.
According to a Fides News Agency report, the 6thcentury church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, located in the diocese of Homs in Western Syria was desecrated by vandals on November 19th. The thieves stole over twenty 18thand 19thcentury icons, ancient manuscripts and vestments. The altar of the church was also desecrated and a 12thcentury fresco of the “Madonna del Latte” was ruined during the theft.
As news of the vandalism spread throughout Qara, which is under the control of Syrian opposition forces, a strong solidarity movement developed. Heads of families, tribal leaders, Muslim leaders and other denominations came to visit the church to express their solidarity towards the Greek Catholic priest Fr. Georges Luis. Christians and Muslims in Qara also gathered in prayer vigils, displaying a sign of unity in the aftermath of the theft.
According to Fides, Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim and Greek-Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham urged both the government and the opposition to ensure security in the country that “is sinking into chaos” due to the acts of banditry, kidnappings, assaults, massacres, bombings of residential areas.
‘Miracle’ of Reconciliation
An unexpected turn of events took place on November 21, the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, which was regarded by the local community as nothing short of “a miracle.”
In the morning, a truck with masked men arrived at the Church and asked to meet Fr. Georges. The Greek Orthodox priest explained to Fides what the men told him: “We do not appreciate what our companions have done. Please forgive us. We are one community, one people, one nation. Your safety is ours. You are under our responsibility.”
Most of the stolen items – otherwise destined for the market of smuggling – were returned, with great joy and relief on behalf of everyone. Fr. Georges served Arabic coffee to the guests and many other people in the neighborhood joined the convivial moment.
The locals celebrated by offering cakes in the street, regarding the events that transpired as “blessed and favored.”