Riad Sargi, a Catholic engineer, spoke to AsiaNews about the recent festivity, celebrated in a “fantastic” atmosphere, with churches "crowded with the faithful”. Christians and Muslims exchanged visits and greetings, wishing for a return to a "normal life”. A French delegation saw Syria’s multi-cultural nature and the ideal of "Arab secularism".
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Riad Sargi, a Greek Catholic Melkite, who along with his wife and children took part in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last September, spoke to AsiaNews about this Easter.
Speaking about its atmosphere, he said it was "fantastic" with churches "crowded with the faithful," Christians and Muslims "celebrating" and “exchanging greetings” in the streets,” and young people and families going out "with a desire to celebrate the observance" far from war and violence.
Riad himself celebrated the Holy Week and Easter in his own parish in Damascus, a city battered by five years of a bloody war that has claimed the lives of more than 260,000 people and displaced millions more.
"This year however was different compared to the previous five,” he explained. “The atmosphere during the holidays in Syria, especially in Damascus, was really great."
A mechanical engineer by training, Riad has worked in the pharmaceutical industry, importing products from Europe. He is also a volunteer with the local chapter of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Married to Rouba Farah, who is into medical research, they have three children: Leila Sargi (14) and two five-year-old twins, Elias and Michael.
The most important things, he noted, was "the way" Christians celebrated Easter. They expressed joy without fear, in the streets and in the churches, organising processions and visits to places of worship as they did before the war.
"It was a wonderful sight, especially in the old parts of Damascus," he said. “Scouts playing musical instruments and holding lit torches and flags” accompanied Good Friday procession, he added.
Easter in Damascus this year, he noted, saw people of different faiths come together as a community. "All the inhabitants, Christians and Muslims exchanged visits and greetings. Many of our Muslim fellow citizens offered best wishes to Christians and our beloved country, Syria. Without exception, everyone, Christians and Muslims, wants to see peace and a normal life return to Syria.”
“My family and I attended Masses at Our Lady in Damascus parish," the Christian engineer said, starting with Palm Sunday when young people "marched in procession around the building holding colourful candles."
This was followed by Holy Week celebrations that culminated "in Easter Sunday Mass led by Bishop Joseph Absi". On Easter Monday, Patriarch Gregory III Laham celebrated the solemn Mass.
"Throughout the week, and on Easter Sunday, the churches and the streets were invaded by the faithful, youth and scouts,” Riad said.
All of us “enjoyed these days of celebration" and "participated with joy to the functions," thanks to a climate of relative peace that reigned in the streets of the capital.
A delegation of French lawmakers, led by SOS Chrétiens d'Orient officials, with the collaboration of the Syrian NGO al-Karma, visited Damascus at Easter and met religious and academic leaders as well as ordinary citizens.
For them, this was an opportunity to see first-hand the significance of multiculturalism and religious pluralism in the war-torn country.
During the three-day visit in the Syrian capital, the French MPs (and their staff) met with students from Damascus University to discuss the concept of "Arab secularism".
The students – who are studying economics, law or engineering – would like the see the country rebuilt, and did not hide their disappointment vis-à-vis the position of many governments, including that of France, towards the war and relations with the Syrian government.
At the same time, all the Syrian academics, artists, intellectuals and ordinary citizens the delegation met expressed a desire to see the country’s diversity maintained as the main weapon against the Islamic State group and such entities. For them, the goal at present is to stabilise and maintain the Syrian model.