06/29/2018, 08.18
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Syrian Christians and Muslims: from common wounds a future of peace

by Sandra Awad*

A lunch open to believers of all religions to respond to the campaign of Caritas Internationalis "Share the Journey". From the initial distrust to the mutual testimony of the sufferings suffered in the conflict. The hope of a future reconciliation that can embrace "the whole country". A mother from Homs and her kidnapped child.

 Damascus (AsiaNews) - A lunch bringing together Christians and Muslims became an opportunity to share experiences of war, suffering, divisions and also to discover that despite differences in faith, no family was spared by the conflict.  It also became an opportunity to  discover that the same families can start a journey of reconstruction capable of building bridges on the ruins and achieving a peace that comes from the depths of hearts. This is what emerges from the testimony given to AsiaNews by Sandra Awad, head of Communications for Caritas Syria, 40, married and mother of two children, in the context of the "Share the Journey" initiative launched by Caritas Internationalis. A challenge for a country now in its eighth year of war, but which never ceases to hope for a "reconciliation" that knows how to "embrace the whole country".

Here, below, the testimony she shared with AsiaNews:

When we received an e-mail notifying us about the topic of the new campaign held by Caritas Internationalis and other NGOs “Share the Journey”, which encourage local communities to receive and welcome refugees and help them integrate in the new society, we felt confused. How can we adopt this campaign in Syria? Which part of the society could be considered to be the host? And which part could be considered to be the new arrivals? Inside Syria, we don’t have refugees. Although the majority of people has become displaced, we are all one aching society who suffered from a long war, which did not exclude any family from its bad impact…

We felt that this campaign is not convenient for the Syrians inside Syria, therefore, we didn’t do a big effort to participate in it, till the day we received an e-mail from Caritas Internationalis inviting us to share a meal with refugees, as part of this campaign.

We finally decided to participate in this action and organize a meal with some displaced people from our beneficiaries from different religions. We started to plan for this event to have place on June 23, in the hall of the Orthodox Cross Church. Beside beneficiaries, we invited also many bishops and priest of the Catholic church.

We had a lot of worries about this gathering. What the reaction of the Catholic bishops would be when we invite them to an Orthodox Church? How would invited beneficiaries interact with each other during this event? They are a mixture of the Syrian society, Muslims, Christians, Alawite, Druze… We are a country which has been suffering from war for almost eight years, distance and separation between people has become wide, we are divided now, the east and the west, the city and the country side, the ones who left the country and those who stayed in it. Everyone is aching, and the hearts are filled with hatred and pain.

Despite of our worries, we organized the seats to have many families from different religions sitting together on the same table.

It was a risky decision, but we can’t do it in another way. Caritas serves all people without discrimination of religion or sect, and we felt it was not Caritas to separate people on tables by religion.

Our worries were right, when the families started to arrive to the church hall, the tension was high between everyone, even an old lady approached one of our workers and asked her not to put her with Muslims on the same table as they were the ones who kidnapped her son.

By chance, my seat was beside this lady, who didn’t seem to be happy. I started chatting with her to let her feel more comfortable. I discovered that she is displaced from Homs. Five years ago, armed groups entered her neighborhood, hit her eldest son on his head till he lost conscious. This son now is suffering mental problems due to that incident. Her second son received more than 10 shots in his right leg, which caused him permanent disability. The 3rd son was kidnapped with his wife and one-year-- old son, and since then, she hasn’t heard any news about them.

“I wish if they have taken my eye, my kidney, or even my heart, but just did not take my son away…” She said that to me while crying.

I put my hand on her arm and tried to console her injured heart with some care. When she calmed down a little bit, I said to her: every family in this country has suffered a lot. Can you see this lady with the scarf, sitting on our table? She lost her husband who was killed with a mortar shell few years ago, and her son lost his legs. She is now taking care of 4 children, one of them is disabled, by herself, without any source of income.

The old lady looked at the widowed mother, her eyes were full of compassion this time, and she said: “yes, everyone has suffered enough during this war, and everyone has his own pain…”

At that moment, a memory came to my mind. I remembered a story that a colleague from Caritas Italiana told me once, which touched me a lot at that time and gave me hope. He said:

"I will tell you about a personal experience that I've lived after the war of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when Caritas Italiana wanted to help people of one of the areas over there. Division and disputes between the people were so numerous back then; A person might have been against the other during war, another might have killed one of his neighbor’s family members, and the list goes on with stories that generated anger, hatred, and the urge of revenge in the hearts of many. At the beginning, our main goal was like all other humanitarian organizations'; trying to provide a source of income for the families over there, therefore we gave away a cow to each family in order to help them make some money, but, unfortunately, that didn't help at all; it rather made things worse. They started to compare the cows, and one of them would say that we had provided his friend with a fatter cow because he belongs to a certain political party, and the other would say that we had given his neighbor the best cow because he is Christian like we are, and so on and so forth with excuses and dissatisfaction. Therefore, we decided to create a kind of a team work in which each one of them can be a part of, thus we helped with establishing a dairy products factory in that region, and we made them all participate in the building process and working in it, but that was not enough either, besides that, we started holding conversation workshops to which we had invited everyone. During the sessions, each one of them started to tell the others about his misery during war, and their own pain, only to realize that that war had reached everyone with no exclusion, that it had ached everybody, and caused lots of losses. Only then, they started to understand one another. “

I looked again to the lady who was sitting beside me, she looks less stressful now, and she started to enjoy the meal!

This small experience with the old lady has been extended to the whole attendants, when we started to invite people to share their stories with everybody. A young man who was kidnapped and tortured for two years by armed groups started talking in front of everybody about his tragedy. He asked all attendants to pray for his brother who was kidnapped with him and who is still missing. After this courageous man made his speech, many people, women and men, started to share their sad stories with the others.

At the end of this event, and with the leadership of the present bishops, we all prayed together, Christians and Muslims, and asked God for peace, for forgiveness and love to fill all the hearts in Syria…

The feedback that we received and we are still receiving till now from the invited people, shows that we were able not only to feed hungry people with a rich meal, but also, we were able to touch their hearts deeply, to start forgiving and connecting with the others.

Finally, Caritas Syria was able to participate in “Share the Journey” campaign in its own very special way, a way called “Reconciliation”.  We wish that this event is the first step for Caritas Syria to play a role in rebuilding the destroyed bridges between Syrians, and reach the real peace that comes from the bottom of the hearts, to spread all over a country.

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