02/22/2016, 16.55
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Journal by a Jesuit in Aleppo shows that the miracle of faith is stronger than war and destruction

by p. Sami Hallak,sj

AsiaNews publishes Fr Sami Hallak’s ‘daily journal’ on Aleppo’s crisis, in which he slams the lack of water, and the ways people save it and reuse it. Fighting and shelling have recently intensified, with deaths among Christians as well. The statue of Our Lady is a sign of hope for the community.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – A Jesuit priest stranded in Aleppo describes in his ‘crisis journal’ what people in Aleppo have to go through: lack of water, acts of violence and shelling. And yet, for the city’s Christians, this has not shaken their faith. Amid devastation and loss, the latter see some signs of hope, some "miracles" that are stronger than war and death, Fr Sami Hallak writes in his journal, which was brought out thanks to his confrere Fr Bimal Kerketta, for whom "Syria lives the period of Lent in a special way”.

As he presents the Jesuit missionary’s journal, Fr Bimal says that "the situation in Syria is worsening day by day”. After "the destruction of Homs," in which a Jesuit priest died, now "Aleppo’s turn seems to have arrived”. Two priests, Frs Sami Hallak and Ghassan, have remained in the city operating on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). They put their lives in harm’s way in “the service of humanity", whilst Islamic State militias "are getting closer” in a city of “still half a million”, where “streets are inaccessible, where one risks get killed at any time”.

What follows is the Crisis Journal from Aleppo by the Indian Jesuit for AsiaNews:

January 22, 2016

The morale of the population is very low. Water is cut off from the city, and there is talk of a long break. Daesh, the Islamic State that controls the dam that supplies water in Aleppo, cut the water for reasons still unknown. For desperate people, one more reason to leave the town, and as you leave, take the destination to the West. It is learned that more and more families are leaving for Canada. In our Jesuit property we have a big water tank (22,000 litres), but we also have a large consumption. With JRS (Jesuit refugee Service), the number of those working in our residence (offices on the 2nd floor) exceeds 20 people. The reservoir can provide water for 12days. I'm worried now like others.

January 27, 2016

Always the stories of heavy shelling! This time it fell in front of the St. Michael's Church at 11am. We have a broken window, two or three glass panes have cracks. The noise was tremendous.

Water is still cut off. The desperation of people is such that I was forced on Sunday Holy Mass to say in my homily that the water will come back in a week: An affirmation of faith and hope. This has a good effect on people, while others asserted without reference, like me, that water will be cut off for long. For months, I encourage people to have positive and encouraging thought. This is our only way to survive. Still, since yesterday, rumours speak of the return water on Saturday – Inshallah (God willing!).

I bring every other day 50 litres of drinking water to offer hot drinks (tea, coffee, anything warm) to students. We comply with non-portable water from a nearby well the area, but some cheat sometimes when we buy water (the water might be from a very dirty area as well).

For three days, the great battle for Aleppo began. The government army attack and the sound of gunfire is heard all night till morning. We do not need an alarm clock because we are dreaming during intermissions.

In response, the shells fell on the neighbourhoods of the regime. A shell fell close to the Franciscan Church (Church of St. Bonaventure known as Ram Church). The large statue of the Virgin of this church is broken. This is a bad sign for the people. My family home is in front of it, but I do not care, three-quarters are already demolished by explosions seven months ago, and there are only two rooms left. The door of one of the rooms is broken by the explosion. I asked one of our neighbours, to move out because her house is demolished. She should distribute or sell the few remaining things of her house as anything can happen in the near future. It's me, I say the same phrase: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." A mystical experience of the war.

February 14, 2016

We learnt in school in Syria that oil is black gold, cotton is white gold. Now we discover that water is gold without any colour. As gold must be treated as does the goldsmith, that is to say very carefully –since a month ago that the city is without water. People buy it at a high price; an expense that adds to the power and drives many to stay all night in the dark because they cannot afford both: water and electricity, and they choose the most necessary.

Aside from drinking water which is used once, every drop of water is used two or three times. If one takes his bath, he puts hot water in a bucket, and the bathing water is carefully collected again in a vessel. Every drop of water flowing from his body is collected with untiring effort which will be used for the toilets (use two times). When using the washing machine, the remaining water contains detergents, it is collected in buckets and is used for various cleaning purpose (wipe the floor). Then the filthy water that remains will be used for the toilets (use three times). With this idea, water and detergents are saved at a time, which is a costly affair because you have to buy things which was not needed earlier.

Our 20,000 litre tank is almost empty . . . For three days, we seek to supply us with water, but we have to wait our turn; the waiting list, we can imagine, is long. By relationships with other associations, Fr Ghassan could get a tank yesterday. We had 15,000 litres of water, an incredible amount. We can, Inshallah, spend the month with . . . Rumours say that water will return in a month.

Anecdote: Today is Valentine's Day. The slogan: "I love you even though you stink." The most popular gift is a red can . . . provided it is filled with water.

February 15, 2016

Macabre day. The fighting is intense and the response too. The shells fell everywhere, but Christians are not very sensitive so they do not fall in their neighbourhoods. The dead remain for them numbers. But when the bombing reached Christian areas, the figures become people. Before yesterday, three people were killed; yesterday, six. A state of fear pervades all Christian inhabitants. They stayed in the city because they do not have the means to leave. For the first time, to pro-government private television is passed cries of Christian women who call the President saying we've had enough, finds a solution. Typically, pro-regime television channels and the official interview Aleppans saying they accept the difficulties and humiliations in the name of resistance and armed terrorist groups, the nation's enemies. I know some of these people. They complain about the situation, but to appear on television, they are willing to say what the chain wants. It is always the attraction of the screen.

February 18, 2016

Water is still cut off. There are rumours that we will have water in two days, news say that the water in the wells dug in the city are getting down to an alarming low level. Consumption is high. Two million people are in need of water. Everywhere in the streets, you see the trucks that carry water day and night. The price per litre is between 1.5 and 2 Syrian pounds for non-portable water. The bottle of drinking water is 125 pounds (600 pounds for someone who has the means to buy half a dozen.).

But Christians manage to find signs of hope. Last Sunday, I was talking with a plumber. He asks me if I saw the miracle of the statue of the Virgin that the shell blew broken. The miracle? I asked, but the statue is broken! Yes, he said, but the face of the Virgin and almost the entire front of the statue remained intact. Her hands clasped in prayer are slightly broken, that's all. It's a miracle Father! I say: Your faith is the miracle. The statue fell, broken, and you see in the debris for signs that the Lord is with us. This man made me think of the centurion before the dying Christ, said, "Truly this man was the son of God." The plumber is not alone. Many have forgotten that the statue fell and remember only parts that remained "miraculously" intact, even if such parts make up only one third of statue.

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