11/14/2013, 00.00
SYRIA
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"Little flowers" of solidarity blossoming in the desert of Syria's War

Aleppo Melkite Archbishop Jeanbart and Vatican nuncio to Syria Mgr Mario Zenari describe the work that charities have done in recent months. In Aleppo, the Church and parishes offer support to thousands of homeless and jobless people. Scholarships are enabling children to go to school. In Damascus, nuns, priests and lay people bring food and basic necessities door to door.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - "Little flowers" are blossoming in the desert of Syria's war, tended by acts of charity and solidarity towards civilians crushed by bombs and overwhelmed by hunger, this according to Mgr Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, and Mgr Mario Zenari, Vatican nuncio to Syria. In the stories that they tell, the two prelate describe another Syria, one that survives along the Syria of hatred and destruction covered by international media.

"Through its charity work, the Catholic Church is trying to regain the sense of love and brotherhood between Christians and Muslims that the war has destroyed," said Archbishop Jeanbart. "We priests try to encourage people to resist, be patient and have hope for the future. We urge people to have faith in God first of all and to think that tomorrow can be a new day."

In recent months, the Archdiocese and local parishes have organised various activities in Aleppo in order to help people. "Thanks to donations, we have set up a fund for young fathers," the prelate explained, "because so many lost their job as a result of the war. Every month we give them 50 per cent of the average blue collar salary. This way, we support more than 400 families."

"At present, Christians are those who are in need of help the most because, unlike Muslim families, they receive very little help from the government." Still, "The Church has tried to help everybody," he explained. In fact, "recently 35 Muslim families have found shelter in the Archdiocese." Sadly though, too many people are moving abroad and might never come back.

In order to maintain a degree of normality and stop people from leaving, the Archdiocese is offering scholarships to children and teenagers.

"Because of the conflict, young people do not have the opportunity to study and continue their education," the prelate explained. "Foreign funds pays for free schooling, which is available to everyone. Up to now, some 300 students have enrolled in the programme, but we hope to get more of them in the future."

In addition to specific programmes, the Church provides food and health care to displaced families through local clinics and home visits. "Every day," the bishop noted, "more than 1,300 families come to distribution centres set up by the Church in cooperation with other organisations and individuals who want to help."

In recent months, Aleppo was the main battleground in the war between Islamist insurgents and Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) controls much of the city's surrounding region. Deemed the most radical of jihadist groups, ISIS wants to set up an Islamic caliphate under Sharia rule.

In much of August and September, the city was without electricity, telephone and water. This has caused a humanitarian catastrophe whose scale is still largely unknown.

Although the army took back part of the central core in October, many suburbs are still hotly disputed between the military and ISIS fighters.

Every day, both sides carry out reprisals, primarily against defenceless civilians. Recently, a mortar shell hit the archbishop's palace and only by luck no one was killed or wounded.

Damascus too has been engulfed in fierce fighting in recent months, regularly shelled by mortar fire.

On Monday, one shell hit a school bus that belongs to the Armenian Orthodox community, killing four pupils and the driver, with dozens more injured. On that same day, the St John Damascene Greek-Orthodox school was also hit, with 11 wounded.

A recent attack against the Nunciature has not stopped the Church from doing its work - encouraging people and giving them hope, Mgr Zenari said.

"In the capital, many Catholic organisations are helping out families, going to door to door. Almost all the nuns and religious, but also many priests and lay people, are involved in this. The Focolari movement is the most organised."

"Sadly, these stories are not heard over the loud bang of bombs," Mgr Zenari said. "But some 'flowers' can miraculously bloom even in the desert of war. They must however be tended. Without the help of Western Christians, they could wither away." (S.C.)

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