This is the last day we will be offering you a story which, along with describing to you the situation as it is lived by Christians in Syria, will also offer you poignant testimonials from the religious personnel on site and from the people living through this unspeakable tragedy.
You will see, though Syrians have a capacity for resilience which is quite remarkable, their suffering remains a weight that they cannot bear alone. Prayer, information and action can help them continue to move ahead on their journey, despite the formidable challenges they face. How can you support them?
The Christian district of Nebek was hit hard in the battles before Christmas. Aid to the Church in Need helps rebuild
By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Sister Houda Fadoul sounds relieved. “Fortunately, the battles are over. There was fierce fighting in Nebek all through Advent. No one was able to flee and the people were trapped. Peace was then finally restored in the week before Christmas. But you never know.” The Syrian-Catholic Sister presides over a congregation of nuns near Nebek, a city of around 50,000 inhabitants situated at the edge of the desert. Only 120 Catholic families live here, about 500 souls. There are two parishes, one Syrian-Catholic and one Greek-Catholic. To the South, Nebek lies about 80 kilometres from Damascus, the capital of Syria. To the North, it is just about the same distance from Homs. Even though it has been under government control since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, fierce fighting has now broken out. “The jihadists are not far away. We Christians are scared of them. But so are the Muslims of Nebek. After all, the jihadists also kill Muslims. No one wants them here. In Nebek, the Christians and Muslims are like family.”
About 90 Christian houses were destroyed or damaged during the battles before Christmas. “The jihadists thought that the government would spare them if they attacked in the Christian district. But that was not the case. There was fierce fighting here. However, the Christian district lies unprotected on a hill. And so the Christian houses were hit especially hard. Through it all, the people hid for weeks in cellars. They were extremely frightened.”
Faith in the future
Sister Houda is now trying to do something about the housing shortage that has befallen the people. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is lending a hand. “Many families either don’t have a flat at all anymore, or the ones they have are uninhabitable. We must help these people. The Christians of Nebek don’t want to leave. They want to stay at home. However, to make this possible, their houses need to be rebuilt.” Some only have broken panes of glass or damaged power lines. Other houses, on the other hand, have been gutted. “These people are now living in emergency housing. They have lost everything. They urgently need mattresses, gas cookers, blankets and things like that.”
However, even before the most recent bout of destruction, life in Nebek was not easy. “We often don’t have any electricity. The people sit in the dark. There is also a shortage of heating fuels. Neither diesel nor wood is available. And the winter is cold. The people suffer.” Sister Houda also deplored the fact that although food is available, it is very expensive. And you cannot get everything. Medical care is also poor. Furthermore, many medicines are no longer available. “However, the biggest problem here is that there is no work. Many factories have closed or have been destroyed. The young men are unemployed. We have to take care of them.” For this reason, Sister Houda wants to come to the aid of small businesses that do not have enough raw materials. “I am thinking of carpenters. We could supply them with wood. And we could also help small stores that sell batteries or torches by providing them with goods.
However, Sister Houda believes that the people’s faith in God has not suffered. “The Christians here are very brave. They celebrated a large Mass of Thanksgiving after the most recent battles. The destroyed houses are one thing. They don’t consider that so important. Instead, they thanked God for the fact that they are still alive. We have to help the people regain their hope and faith in a future in Syria. If not, we will lose them. We therefore thank everyone who has donated to Aid to the Church in Need for their support. In the past they have helped us build flats for young Christian families. Now we are again dependent on their generosity and especially on their prayers: May God bless them.”