Aleppo's new vicar Jallouf: 'Rebuilding a community bloodied by war and earthquake'
A Franciscan, until now parish priest of Knayeh, in Idlib, he was appointed on 1 July by Pope Francis. In 2014, he experienced the drama of kidnapping at the hands of al-Nusra and more recently the devastation of the earthquake. The area still in an 'emergency' phase, there is 'much to be done'. As for relations with the factions, the prelate says that now "the rebels have changed strategy, they seem to accept the Christians". The hope: "The Church is a light for all of Syria".
Aleppo (AsiaNews) - First the devastation of the war, then the tragedy of the earthquake that has "destroyed many homes" and caused "numerous displaced persons", so much so as to make Aleppo a "bloody community: the situation is not good and there is much to do," Franciscan Father Hanna Jallouf tells AsiaNews. The former parish priest of Knayeh, in the Syrian province of Idlib, was appointed apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins Saturday by Pope Francis.
Once the economic and commercial capital of the country, and for a long time the epicentre of the conflict, today the city also bears the marks of the earthquake of 6 February, in addition to the critical issues linked to western sanctions, which have brought Syria to its knees.
"It was an unexpected choice," emphasises the religious, "which came while I was working in most of the parishes affected by the earthquake. Now the new mission, which I live with as much joy as dedication and spirit of sacrifice'.
Pope Francis appointed Franciscan Fr. Hanna Jallouf, of the Custody of the Holy Land, to take over from Mgr. Georges Abou Khazen, who resigned in recent months due to age.
The vicariate extends its jurisdiction over the Latin-rite Catholic faithful throughout Syria, for whom it is the point of reference in terms of pastoral and other activities, particularly in this phase of slow rebirth after the devastation of the war and the earthquake.
In December, the cleric was received by Pope Francis (in the photo, by Vatican Media), who presented him with the Mother Teresa Award sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery for the Service of Charity, 25 years after the death of the foundress.
The new Apostolic Vicar of the Latins was born on 16 July 1952 in Knayeh, in the municipality of Jisser El Chougur, in the province of Idlib, which - even today - remains the last stronghold in the hands of the anti-Assad rebels and jihadist militias.
Fr. Hanna took his first vows in the Order in 1975, then made his solemn promise in 1979 and was ordained a priest on 29 July of the same year. He obtained a Licentiate in Youth Pastoral and Catechetics at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, carrying out, among his numerous assignments for the Custody of the Holy Land, those of: Vice-rector in Amman until 1982, rector of the minor seminary in Aleppo from 82 to 1987, parochial vicar in Casalotti (Rome) from 1987 to 1990, superior and parish priest in Ghassanieh and Jisser el Chougur (1990-1992), director of the Terra Sancta College in Amman (1992-2001), parish priest in Knayeh (2001-2013); superior and parish priest in Knayeh and in charge of Jisser El Chougur until today.
With regard to the earthquake emergency, the new vicar emphasises that "we are still in a phase of assessing needs and priorities" in a climate that is still one of "first emergency, not only in Aleppo but throughout Syria. And in the villages of Idlib province it is even worse" as there are peaks of up to 80% destruction.
"Then there are the refugees in Latakia. There is so much to do'. The priest has lived and worked for the past few years in the rebel-controlled area as a parish priest in Knayeh, in the valley of the Orontes River, where there are two other Christian villages (Yacubieh and Jdayde) located almost close to the Turkish border, closer to Antioch than to Aleppo.
"Even now I am in the Idlib area," he explains, "and the situation is relatively calm, the echoes of the war can no longer be heard. The rebels have changed their strategy, they now seem to accept Christians, considering them as flowers in their garden. However, there is still a lot of work to be done' in a perspective of real coexistence.
After all, Fr. Hanna Jallouf is well acquainted with the difficulties and dangers of jihadist fundamentalism, having experienced the drama of being kidnapped in October 2014, after being picked up by militiamen of the al-Nusra front in the very village of Knayeh.
The kidnapping that ended quickly and positively, unlike others such as in the case of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio.
"We need peace, we need security, without which nothing can be done. We hope that this bloody land can be lifted up,' he adds, 'through mercy and forgiveness between the warring factions. Moreover, the United States and the West must cancel the sanctions, because they do not affect the government but only the poor people'. In conclusion, the new vicar of Aleppo outlines the priorities for Aleppo and all of Syria.
"At the pastoral level, it is important to succeed in coordinating and unifying efforts" between the different groups "of religious" present and active in the territory, so that "the Church may be a light for all of Syria. Finally, we want to renew not only the work, but also the spiritual guidance among our collaborators".
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