The regular army advances in the region. Thousands of civilians and militants in flight. For Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen Christian migrants are a resource "in pastoral and ecclesial service". He urges them to witness to the Gospel to Muslims, a mission "in the sign of the times." From the drama of the Christians to the miracle of the meeting between Francis and Kirill. Lent and the ecumenism of blood.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The regular Syrian army, with the help of the Russians, "has started the campaign of liberation of the Aleppo region. Rebel fighters are mixed among the fleeing civilians, people are afraid. But the goal of the military is to clean the area to allow civilians to return and in some areas this has already happened”, the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen, tells AsiaNews. He describes the latest developments of the war in the "northern capital" of Syria where "the goal is to free the area from militia extremists - and allow people to return to their homes. In some areas, schools have reopened and the supply of electricity and water has returned”.
According to UN sources the army siege of Aleppo, once a commercial and industrial hub of Syria, could deprive up to 300 thousand people of aid. Since 2012 the city has been divided in two, with the western part under the control of Damascus and the eastern sector under the rebels. The United Nations is calling on Turkey to open the borders and allow the entry of 30 thousand refugees, camped at the border.
In a tense situation, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen sees positive glimmers: "Many of the local fighters, the Syrian guerrillas, are calling for an end to the war, and want reconciliation and dialogue with military and government. Where instead there is a prevalence of foreign jihadists and militants - he added - linked to foreign powers in the region and outside the region, war still rages on. It is a fact that locals want to find a way forward for dialogue, trying to prevent other bloody battles for cities and villages. "
The war in Syria flared up in March 2011 as a popular protest against President Bashar al-Assad and turned into widespread conflict with extremist tendencies and Islamic Jihad, so far claiming over 260 thousand lives. It sparked one of the most serious humanitarian crisis in history, forcing 4.6 million Syrians to seek shelter abroad, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands have tried to reach Europe, at times at the cost of their lives crossing the Mediterranean.
The apostolic vicar reaches out to the churches, governments and citizens of an increasingly divided Europe, which speaks of a migration "emergency" and, in some cases, even "invasion" and wants to close the borders. "You have an influx of refugees, many of whom are Christians. Your task - says the prelate - is not only help them, but 'take advantage' of them because they are people of faith. They live their pastoral and ecclesial service joyfully, they can be a little yeast also for your Church of the West. "
Extending the discussion to all migrants, including Muslims, the vicar urges Christians in the West "not to be afraid and to witness the Gospel to them. This is a sign of the times, because the first missionaries from the Old Continent went around the world. Now the world comes to you, in Europe, and it is your task to announce the Good News without proselytizing. It is about giving witness".
Returning to the situation in Aleppo, Msgr. Georges reports that "where the battle rages, the situation remains dramatic," but the clashes that "do not last long, at most two or three days. We have been without electricity for five months and a month without water – he adds - because the plant that supplies the area is in the hands of the Islamic State. " In contrast, there is food but it is "expensive" as supplies depend "on an army corridor”. Power is supplied by generators, that "families pay a high price based on weekly consumption".
The main problem is water, but so far "the wells that we have made and which are also present in all mosques and churches are able to deal with the emergency, giving drinking water "to Christians and Muslims without distinction." The government has also placed tanks at different points of the city and are in the process of digging new wells.
Finally, the prelate’s thoughts turn to Lent – which for Eastern Churches - began on 8 February. "It is a period strongly felt by the faithful, in Aleppo, in Syria and throughout the Middle East. This year we want to become an instrument for peace. "
The drama of Christians in Syria and Iraq, said Msgr. Georges, has already produced a "first miracle: the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, which is rooted in their shared concern for the suffering of Christians in the region."
This, he adds, is a "source of comfort, a sign that our pain has born unexpected fruit and now we continue to hope for peace and mercy." In this Lenten time masses, sermons, retreats, Stations of the Cross are held in churches which he concludes, "draws together Maronites, Latins, Chaldeans, Orthodox ... after all we live on the ground and already experience an ecumenism of the blood".(DS)