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‘It’s Possible. It Is Possible. Peace in Syria Is Possible’

Jesuit describes ministry of feeding the poor left in Aleppo

The Church is continuing to provide help for those remaining in Aleppo, feeding thousands every day – despite rebel forces pushing forward to seize the city.

Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “It is a sad situation for everybody because of the fighting.

“I couldn’t sleep well there because all the night we heard the bombardment and the fighting between the groups.”

In many cases people are relying on charity for their food, and the Church has stepped in to help feed those left in Aleppo – regardless of their religion.

Fr Hilal said: “We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN and other associations, and a lot of people who come – we give about 7,500 meals every day.

“It is a lot, and the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims.”

But the Jesuit priest said that despite the siege in many ways life is going on as usual with marriages, baptisms and even daily Mass continuing to be said, giving hope to those in the war-torn city.

He added: “On one side things are dark, things are sad – on the other hand we see the activities of the Church there and how the people, especially the Christian associations are helping.

“These provide a sign of hope. Our mission is important there.”

But Fr Hilal added that “from midnight until morning it is black – a dark city – nothing happens.”

He described how electricity was highly limited, with generators giving people no more than two hours of electricity a day.

The Jesuit priest said: “Without electricity we couldn’t have warmth and a lot of people couldn’t go to their job also – and the city is divided between two sides.

“Between the opposition and the government, then people couldn’t move from one side to the other side…

“And a lot of people couldn’t go from here to there, from there to here, to get to their jobs – and so they lost their jobs, they lost their houses.”

Fr Hilal estimated that between 27,000-30,000 Christians – around 60 percent of Aleppo’s pre-war numbers – have left, and those who remain there are poor and desperate for work.

He said: “I met a Catholic family where three children are working in a restaurant, one is 7 or 8 years old, the other one is 10 years old and the third one, he is 14 years old.

“Their father has died, we don’t know how, and their mother is also working.

“And the boss of the restaurant told me – you see these three children are working and I couldn’t tell them no it is summer now because they are helping their mother. I was choked.”

Because jobs are scarce, the Missionaries of Mary, where the food kitchen providing 7,500 meals is based, is helping women – including Muslims – to sew handbags and other items to sell so that they have a small income.

Fr Hilal said: “What the people in Syria and especially in Aleppo need is security and mercy to continue their lives because it is a hard situation.”

But the Jesuit priest stressed that peace was possible despite the fierce fighting continuing in the country.

He said: “It is important now to say what Pope Francis said a few days ago – ‘I encourage everyone – young and old people – to live with enthusiasm in this Year of Mercy, to overcome indifference, and firstly proclaim peace in Syria is possible. Peace in Syria is possible.’

“This is our cry today that peace in Syria is possible, this is the only hope for us.”

About John Newton

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