Aleppo: the dark city
Father Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit priest who has been helping the victims of the war in Syria for a very long time now, once in Homs and now in Aleppo, recently spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
What was the situation like in Aleppo?
“It is a sad situation for everybody because of the fighting. I couldn’t sleep well there because all the night we heard the bombardment and the fighting between the groups.”
“When I was there, there was electricity for maybe one hour, two hours, a day – but not every day either. Then it is a dark city, if you want, without electricity but the people use the generators, but not all the time they give them electricity for a few hours. But from midnight until morning it is black – a dark city – nothing happens.”
“Without electricity we couldn’t have warmth and a lot of people couldn’t go to their job also – and the city, it’s divided between two sides. Between the opposition and the government, then people couldn’t move from one side to the other side. And you can imagine every family can be divided between the two sides of the cities. And a lot of people couldn’t go from here to there, from there to here, to get to their jobs – and so they lost their jobs, they lost their houses.”
Are there any signs of hope?
“On one side things are dark, things are sad. On the other hand, we see the activities of the Church there and people, especially the Christian associations. These provide a sign of hope.”
“We have many services there with Aid to the Church in Need, with JRS, and the bishops to help the Christians to stay in their land – and also to help the Muslim people.”
What is exactly the action of the Church?
“We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN and other associations, and a lot of people who come – we give about 7,500 meals every day. It is a lot – the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims.”
He added that at the Missionaries of Mary, where the kitchen is based, are helping women – including Muslim women to sew handbags and other items to sell to make a living.
“The problem is Syria is not between Christians and Muslims – but I am giving you an example how our church works for reconciliation.”
Can you give us an example of how families are suffering?
“There are many poor families without work. I met a Catholic family where three children are working in a restaurant, one is 7 or 8 years old, the other one is 10 years old and the third one, he is 14 years old. Their father has died, we don’t know how, and their mother is also working. And the boss of the restaurant told me – you see these three children are working and I couldn’t tell them no it is summer now because they are helping their mother. I was choked.”
What is the situation like in Aleppo now that the rebels have driven further in to the city?
“I don’t know. What I can say? It is chaos now – and not only in Aleppo but throughout Syria. Fighting is everywhere. We speak a lot about Aleppo, but we also forget the other cities. It is the same situation, our country is divided now. I think the only way is dialogue between Syrian and Syrian, because of the issues of the day, because with weapons – we could not find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace. This is the most important thing for us as Syrians.”
Do you think there will be peace?
“It is important now to say what Pope Francis said a few days ago – ‘I encourage everyone – young and old people – to live with enthusiasm in this year of mercy, to overcome indifference, and firstly proclaim peace in Syria is possible. Peace in Syria is possible.’ This is our cry today, that peace in Syria is possible, this is the only hope for us.”
What is your prayer for Syria?
“My prayer today is to ask God to give us peace and consolation. What the people in Syria and especially in Aleppo need is security and mercy to continue with their lives, because it is a hard situation. God makes us understand that the only way is reconciliation between each other, as Syrian to Syrian, to stop the war and start a new life in peace”
Aid to the Church in Need continues to help in Syria the catholic communities that provides support
to the displaced and refugees.
Thanks to you.
By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada