Vicar of Aleppo: peace, home and work. The gift of Christmas for the future of Syrian Christians
One year after reunification, the city is safer, there is a climate of greater hope and optimism. Migration and unemployment remain a problem, especially among young people. The Church's help essential for the survival of over 10 thousand families. Attention to children and commitment to their schooling.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) - Peace in all of Syria, the fight against unemployment that is impeding the (slow) recovery and the reunification of the many war-torn families, which in over six years of violence has transformed millions of people into migrants in search of shelter abroad or internally displaced persons. These are the two great desires that animate the Christian population of Aleppo in these weeks of Advent preparing for Christmas, according to the Apostolic Vicar of the Latins Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen. One year after the end of the battle for the city "there is a climate of greater hope", he adds, and "there is also much more security. All this leads to moderate optimism, so that we can reach a solution that involves the whole country".
Migration "remains a problem", underlines the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, also because "mainly the young people have gone" and their return is a "priority" to restart the city. Meanwhile, the local Church, the prelate continues, has started or supports with specific funds "micro-enterprise projects at local level: now our challenge is to move from subsidy to self-sufficiency".
Hence the allocation of sums of money for the opening of patisseries, barber shops, carpenters, artisans and blacksmiths because "it is from the small daily activities that we have to start again". "The return of electricity for 13, 14 hours a day, together with the constant supply of water - underlines Msgr. Georges - are the most important signs of rebirth ".
Now it is possible to go back to see "a clean city" in some points and "streets lit with solar panels". From darkness to light, adds the bishop, "it's a new sensation, including street lighting at night".
Before the war Aleppo was the second most important city in Syria, as well as its main economic and commercial engine. Since 2012 it has been divided into two sectors: Western, where 1.2 million people have lived under government control; the eastern part, with about 250 thousand people, in the hands of rebel militias and jihadist groups. The surrender of the rebels, their brokered exit from the city, and the subsequent reunification date back to December last year; the population was able to celebrate the end of the fighting just before Christmas with song and dance.
After a year the work of removing the rubble started, the roads are cleaner, the traffic has increased, some workshops have reopened. "Something is moving", says Msgr. Georges, even if "many people are left without work, there are many war or abandoned orphans we have discovered in the months following the unification of the city". One of the great obstacles to the recovery of Aleppo "is unemployment: the machinery and tools that were lost or stolen during the war years must be repaired, the houses must be put in order to allow the return of the refugees".
The local Church participates in the reconstruction of buildings, supports the small business, continues the distribution of food parcels. "Almost all families - says the prelate - still depend on our aid: about 10,500 Christian groups of all confessions. And then there is health care and the distribution of medicines, also a priority in the context of a devaluation of the local currency, the lira, its buying power is much lower although the average salary is unchanged and so no longer enough ".
Meanwhile, the community is approaching Christmas [click here for the video] with "much more hope, more security, with the hope that the war can end soon. The streets are festively decorated, a town hall led by a Muslim majority has wanted to put banners and symbols of the Christian festival. And again, the churches decorated with the cribs, the plays put on by the young people. The bishop confirms: “The atmosphere is different to the past years".
In these final days of preparation for the feast, the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo wants to address a final thought to the children, who represent "the future and the hope" of the Christian community and of the whole country. "As a Church we have prepared some gifts to be distributed, along with clothes that can be used throughout the winter. Added to this are group lunches on Christmas Day and the following day; an opportunity to be together, to celebrate, with songs and dances. But beyond the celebrations - concludes the prelate - there is the commitment for their schooling: to date we pay the entire fee of 3200 students, in institutions, mostly private, up to $ 150 per year, also distributing books and notebooks to the poorest, but most deserving students". (DS)