This month, Pope Francis opened up a new path to sainthood for “those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teaching of Jesus, have offered their life voluntarily and freely for others and have persevered in this to death.” As reported by Aid to the Church in Need, in Aleppo, Syria, more than 2,400 Christians who died in the country’s civil war are awaiting proper burial—there may be saints among them. One day, some of their stories will be told.
By Josué Villalón
THE NEIGHBORHOOD of Sheikh Maqsood sits on a hill on the north-western outskirts of Aleppo. It was the site of fierce battles between Kurdish troops and various Islamist militia. The Kurds eventually prevailed. And even today Kurdish troops block civilians and even Syrian security forces from entering the area. The neighbourhood is also home to a number of Christian cemeteries serving various Churches. They are located on at the foot of Jabal Al-Saydé (Mountain of St. Mary). They have been closed for years—with some of them damaged by bombs or looting.
Meanwhile, there are many dead still awaiting their proper burial. “We would like to give our dear departed a dignified and sacred burial,” said Father Moses Alkhassi, vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo and Alexandretta, whose territory extends across Syria and Turkey.
“Several bombs were dropped on our cemetery, which destroyed large parts of it,” he told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “Doors and gravestones were also pillaged and several graves were opened,” he added.
“Our archdiocese has suffered greatly: we have lost several churches. Furthermore, at the very beginning of the war, our Metropolitan Boutros Yazigi was kidnapped together along with the local Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim. We still don’t know where the two of them are,” the priest said.
The number of Christians from all denominations that are still awaiting a dignified burial in the various cemeteries totals 2,461. Up until now, their mortal remains have been interred on a piece of property that was provided by the Syrian government. It costs about $45 to exhume and re-bury the remains of one person.
ACN has agreed to provide close to $50,000 to repair cemeteries, in particular the Greek Orthodox cemetery—which sustained the most damage—and to arrange for the transfer to Jabal Al-Saydé of the remains of all Orthodox and Catholic Christians of various rites who died in Aleppo between April 2013 and December 2016.
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)