Pray for Aleppo – people are afraid like never before
Heavy battles are expected – a religious Sister reports on the situation of Christians in Aleppo
“Pray for Aleppo. People are more fearful than ever before in recent years.” With these heartrending words the Armenian Catholic religious Sister Annie Demerjian appealed on Wednesday to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “People are afraid of heavy fighting; thousands have already left the city, both Christian and Muslim. We are preparing ourselves for the worst.” So says this Sister, who has been holding out for years in this city, still so fiercely contested between the Syrian government and the rebels.
“The Christians are taking everything they can carry with them and are seeking refuge in the coastal region or in the ‘Valley of the Christians’. I do not know how many have already left, but there are many thousands of them. We sense this, because the Christian quarters have noticeably emptied out.”
People keep going, with God’s help
The situation of the Christians in Aleppo in northern Syria – once a city of millions – has recently deteriorated yet further. On Friday April 10 – Good Friday in the Eastern Churches – the predominantly Christian quarter of Suleymaniye came under heavy bombardment from rebel forces. “The Christians of Aleppo are still in shock today, so heavy were the attacks. People are startled in fear at every loud noise. Many people once again found themselves living among the ruins. One woman saw her own children lying motionless among the rubble, but fortunately, they had survived. But others lost their lives in the attacks. On Easter Sunday we buried many of our brothers and sisters. We hurried from one funeral to the next. It was so sad,” Sister Annie continues. “One entire family was wiped out; another family lost their mother and two sons. The force of the explosion flung one of the sons out of the house, leaving him lying dead, hanging on the power cables. His mother and brother were blown to bits by the bombs. Their relatives are still finding parts of the bodies among the rubble and burying them. Can you imagine the suffering their bereaved families are going through? Those who have survived are deeply wounded inwardly, in their innermost souls. But we have grown accustomed to the bombs and to death. People keep going, with God’s help.”
For years now, Sister Annie and her team have been helping the embattled people of Aleppo by providing the basic necessities for everyday life, such as food and clothing. ACN supports her work. “Without ACN benefactors we could not do what we are doing. May God bless you. It gives the people here a little bit of security and hope to know that they have not been forgotten. But above all I ask you to pray for Aleppo and for Syria. May God enlighten the hearts of those in power so that they can find a way to peace. Otherwise I do not know how long the people can continue to endure it all.”
“Without ACN benefactors we could not do what we are doing. May God bless you.”
In the last few weeks a number of Christian churches in Aleppo have also been severely damaged, including the Armenian Orthodox and the Maronite churches. On Friday of last week (May 8) the Melkite Cathedral of the Dormition of Our Lady was badly damaged again and is no longer fit for worship. ACN was told by the Melkite patriarchate in Damascus, that the bombardments are the work of extremist Islamist opposition groups, including the “Islamic State” (IS) and the Al-Nusra Front. According to the patriarchate, prior to the war there were 18,000 Melkite Christians living in Aleppo alone. Today there are no more than 12,000.
Aid to the Church in Need has been particularly active in the Middle East. Since the end of 2011 the charity has given over 16.36 million dollars toward helping Christians in Syria and Iraq – and just recently, ACN ear-marked over 2.73 million dollars for humanitarian aid, funds which were also used to help the people of Aleppo.