February 6th, 2017
The city of Aleppo is usually quiet on Saturday morning. It is weekend: there is no school and no one has to go to work … But the atmosphere in our parish is quite the opposite of that this Saturday. The youth rush like ants to finish the preparations for today that had already begun several days ago. They do not want to forget anything and quickly wanted to meet the others: those who are in need. For us Christians, people in need, regardless of their religion or beliefs, are like Jesus who knocks at our door.
Many families moved from the Eastern part of Aleppo in the last period of the conflict. They left their homes and other properties and arrived here with nothing. Others joined the fighters, so now the Eastern part of the town is almost emptied of its inhabitants. Later, those broken families arrived at Jibreen, Al Hamra and there, in the silos filled with wheat, they found shelter. Here they experienced not terror, but a hard winter that started abruptly.
Our Western part of the city hasn’t had much more luck than the Eastern part. Just by walking through the streets of Midan you can see the destruction: ruins of whole districts, half-destroyed buildings and only sometimes you can see people walking through those otherwise completely deserted districts…
In spite of our wounds as a Christian community, as disciples of Christ, we overcome our wounds with all the compassion of Christ for the families and the children who are in need. We bring our charity to “the least” through actions, after having expressed it through our prayers. In all the homilies I speak of our brothers, of our neighbor and, in so doing, of the hidden presence of Christ.
This mission is the result of our collaboration with others. After Christmas, we contacted many associations that have begun to coordinate humanitarian aid on the government’s behalf. When we started the program we shared our distribution tasks. Our parish provided gas stoves for each displaced family and the others provided clothing and food. We started this mission as part of the Church and in the name of the Church. We chose not to use our Franciscan emblem on the products. As S. Francis emptied himself with humility to be “a voice that introduces Christ”, we decided to do everything under the name “Papal aid”.
Our missionary day was further supported by the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio Cardinal Mario Zenari, Mgr Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, the secretary of “Cor Unum” and mgr Thomas Habib, who came with us to visit the displaced families at Jibreen.
We spent the whole day with the suffering, listening to them and helping them. We encountered material misery and even greater moral misery. All families are torn apart and each person carries a history of suffering, they have suffered both physical and mental wounds … The majority of women are widows or got abandoned with many children, sometimes 12 or more. Everyone rushed towards us to tell their stories, they needed a listening ear. Almost all of those people have experienced violence or have seen the brutal death of one of their relatives: parents, husbands, children …
We met a large number of orphans and children who have no father. They never lived in a house, never went to school. These are children who, until now, only have experienced terror, violence, dirt, thirst, famine, cold, sadness… A whole generation that until now has received no other education than war …
We returned to our parish in Aleppo at about 5:00 pm where a meal was waiting for all of our volunteers who spent their day unreservedly showing love for their neighbors.
Saint Francis, the patron of our parish, would be pleased when he saw our youth fulfill this mission. Throughout the day we felt that he accompanies us and smiles at us from on high…
We thank the Lord for this rich experience that he gave us and for this new mission that He let us discover. The Lord spoke to us as usual: by signs of the time, through the words of women, through the eyes of the children… The challenge is not over yet, in fact, it has just begun: in many neighborhoods, people need wells to provide them water, many other families need to warm themselves and cannot prepare a hot meal. Hundreds of children have dirty feet with chilblains caused by the cold: they need shoes very pressingly.
The biggest challenge to be faced to ensure the rebirth of Aleppo is education. In Jibrin, we saw the children run aimlessly through the streets and act aggressively. So we understood that we need educators for this generation that has experienced the disorder of war so much. We have seen how much they need to be accompanied to make sure that they become responsible, loving and creative citizens. Then, they will be able to build a better society in Aleppo.
With our visit to Jibreen and Jabal Bdro we turned a page of Jesus’ mission into our “wounded Alep”. We concluded a chapter, but we still have many pages; blank chapters that we shall continue to write guided by the Holy Spirit.