11/28/2014, 00.00
SYRIA
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For apostolic vicar in Aleppo, young Christians bear witness to the faith in a wounded city

Mgr Georges Abou Khazen talks about scores of young men and women who "see Christ in others" and so serve them handing out aid and organising school activities and games for children. Weddings and baptisms are a sign of the Church's vitality. For a battered people, Advent is a time to "wait and hope" through prayer in "the coming of the Saviour."

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - Many young people, not all Christians, have been volunteering, dedicated to helping others "through a genuine sense of faith". They are "scores of young men and women" from the community "who see Christ in others and want to serve Him" to rebuild what war has divided and torn asunder, said Mgr Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate saw a silver line amid conflict and violence, examples and stories that brought some renewed hope. For him, many young people "have made a step forward", because their work is not only "simple humanitarian aid" but contains a deeper meaning that stems from their Christian faith.

They have done and do a lot for a community like Aleppo's that has been battered by three years of war. Teenagers and young men and women spend some of their time "helping the needy" and "in aid distribution".

Some have come up with activities for children to help the little ones "cope with a situation that is increasingly difficult" and "teach them various subjects." For Mgr Abou Khazen, "They are great kids".

Aleppo's Christian community, like the rest of the city's residents, experienced "hardships and insecurity". Even seeking refuge in one's home is not enough, he said, because, at any time, a sudden "mortar attack, rocket launch or explosion" can occur.

Yet, despite everything, people continue to go to church or school. Those with a job go to the office trying to deal and overcome "the hardships of life" in a country at war.

However, high unemployment is a major problem, the prelate noted. "Few people are still able to work. Only pensioners and government employees can get money, whilst everybody else is out of luck."

Nevertheless, there is a constant and deep commitment to maintaining a semblance of normality under exceptional circumstances.

"Those who can go to work," Mgr Abou Khazen said. "Schools are open, and young people attend colleges and universities. . . . That is already a lot!"

"As for us Christians, activities that had been disrupted are now up and running: scout groups are meeting again, so are religious associations and catechism classes interrupted by fear. These too are small signs of hope, coming on top of weddings and baptisms."

In fact this year, the Christian community of Latin rite celebrated 21 weddings and some 40 baptisms. For the bishop, this is "a source of great consolation, because it shows that there are not only frightened people who want to escape. These Christians show that they belong to this land, that of their ancestors, and are determined to stay. We try to encourage them and they are a source of courage for us. "

Although a United Nations peace initiative might lead to possible political developments, Christians "have little faith in it, but we are hopeful," the bishop said.

For him, the UN action should start in Aleppo, where the Christian community is preparing for the start of Advent and Christmas celebrations.

"We will not be able to hold big ceremonies," the prelate said, "but it will certainly be an occasion for religious and spiritual celebration."

"With some young people, we are preparing activities for the kids. We have urged people to enliven Christmas novena. Plus, each Sunday, we organise small initiatives in a different church".

"We want our faithful not to think only of the hardships and tragedies of war," he said in concluding. "Advent corresponds exactly to our feeling of expectation and hope, with the expectations of a battered people that welcomes in prayer the arrival of the Saviour". (DS)

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