Father Ziad Hilal, is a Syrian Jesuit priest who spent several years serving the Christian community in the Syrian city of Homs. He spoke Aug. 12 with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, to report on his recent trip to Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, which is hotly contested between the regime and opposition forces.
What was the situation like in Aleppo?
There is electricity for maybe one hour, two hours, a day, but not every day. Then it is a dark. Some people use generators to get electricity for a few hours. But from midnight until morning it is black—a dark city—and nothing happens.
The city is divided between the opposition and the government, and people cannot move between the different parts of the city. For many that meant not being able to go to work, losing jobs, and losing their homes.
Are there any signs of hope?
The Churches and Christian organizations provide a sign of hope. There are many services, funded by Aid to the Church in Need, Jesuit Relief Services, other agencies, as well as the local bishops, to help Christians to stay in their land—and also to offer aid to the Muslim people. For example, there is a local soup kitchen that gives out 7500 meals a day; it is run by both Christians and Muslims, and many of the beneficiaries are Muslims. The problem in Syria is not between Christians and Muslims—and this relief work shows how our Church is working for reconciliation.
Can you give us an example of how families are suffering?
There are many poor families without work. One Catholic family has three children—ages 7, 8 and 14—working in a restaurant. Their father has died, we don’t know how, and their mother is also working. I choked up when the owner of the restaurant told me he could not say no to these children, even though business is slow—it’s because they are helping their mother, the man said.
What can you say about the military situation? Rebels have driven deeper into the city, reports say.
It is chaos now—and not only in Aleppo but throughout Syria; there is fighting everywhere; we speak a lot about Aleppo but let’s not forget the other cities. It is the same situation, our country is divided now. The only way out is through dialogue among Syrians themselves. Using weapons we have not been able to arrive at a resolution. We have to work for peace—that’s most important. This is our cry today: that peace in Syria is possible. This the only hope for us.
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) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)