Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The Christian community in Syria's second largest city is preparing to celebrate Our Lady of Fatima and consecrate the city to her.
For Antoine Audo, Chaldean Archbishop of Aleppo, who spoke to AsiaNews, this will be a time of "hope" for Christians, who will bear witness to a faith that remains "strong in times of hardships”, but also a time of shared "community" feelings, fuelled by years of bloody war that "strengthened" unity among the various confessions.
This event coincides with Pope Francis's apostolic journey to Fatima, Portugal, on 12 and 13 May, for the centenary of Virgin's apparitions to the three shepherds.
"It must be said that the whole month of May is important for Aleppo’s Christian communities,” the prelate said. “All the churches are full of worshippers who pray the Rosary, approach the Eucharist, and recite litanies. This is a very important time of prayer and communion around Mary, a pleasant tradition rooted in time."
In fact, the people of Aleppo "love popular devotion a lot". They want to "participate" and perpetuate a "long tradition" that unites churches and families around Mary. This, he adds, "is very beautiful because it creates an atmosphere of serenity. May is the privileged month to pray for peace, for the end to all conflicts."
The three days of celebrations dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima in Aleppo – on the initiative of the Latin parish of St Francis – will begin on Thursday 11 May, with a community prayer at 5 pm.
This will be followed throughout the next day by the recitation of the Rosary, invocations for peace to Our Lady, films and screenings devoted to the Virgin, and community Masses.
The climax of the celebration will come on Saturday, 13 May, in conjunction with the papal Mass in Fatima, when a solemn Eucharistic co-celebration will take place, attended by all the bishops and priests present in Aleppo.
Believers from over every Christian confession in northern Syria’s largest city are invited to the service. What was the epicentre of the Syrian conflict will be consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima, following a procession with the statue of Our Lady.
This highly symbolic gesture will be carried out with the hope that it can help restore peace not only in Syria but throughout the Middle East after decades of conflicts.
"The climax,” Mgr Audo said, “will be the solemn Eucharistic co-celebration in the Franciscan cathedral, to which all Christian denominations are invited, in communion with Pope Francis. This will be followed by the procession inside and outside of the church, led by the statue of Our Lady gifted by the Sanctuary of Fatima. The statue arrived in the city a few days ago. It will be a beautiful function, a time of celebration for up to 3,000 faithful."
"The consecration of Aleppo to Mary and the theme of peace are a source of hope and a sign of our presence,” the Chaldean bishop said. “We want to take advantage of the event to renew the themes of dialogue, unity and outreach not only between the different Christian denominations, but also with Muslims by taking advantage of the vast echo created by the pope’s visit to Egypt. People are still talking about it, a testimony made of gestures rather than words."
For Mgr Audo, people could have responded to the tragedy of war "with fanaticism or communion: the Church helped to choose the latter. The faith of Christians is solid and strong, and this leads to optimism, even if uncertainties and shadows for the future still remain.”
Next weekend, Pope Francis will travel to the Portuguese town to mark hundred years since the apparitions.
On 13 May 1917, as the Great War raged in Europe, a ‘Lady” appeared to three children – Lúcia dos Santos, 10, Jacinta Marto, 7, and Francisco Marto, 9, Jacinta's brother and Lucia's cousin. She was dressed in white with a rosary in her hand, and was identified as Our Lady. In 1930, the Catholic Church proclaimed the supernatural character of the apparitions and authorised worship.
A shrine was built in Fatima, first visited by Pope Paul VI on 13 May 1967 for the 50th anniversary of the apparitions. Saint John Paul II, who was close to Fatima’s Marian tradition, came on a pilgrimage to the Portuguese town more than a few times.
The apparitions – which fall within the category of private revelations – are also linked to the secrets of Fatima, which are in fact a single revelation divided into three parts. (DS)