Syria: Christians in Aleppo mobilize for the poorest

In many parishes in Aleppo, Christians of different faiths have organized themselves so that no one is left behind. The solidarity of Christian communities allows thousands of people to survive and to regain a little hope.

Vatican News

Aleppo was the most populous city in Syria before the war, followed by Damascus. This is no longer the case today. Syrians who went abroad in search of a better future left around 1.8 million people behind. They were 4.6 million in 2010. One only needs to look at the windows to realize how many houses are empty and have been abandoned.

Visible and invisible scars

The war will leave deep, visible and less visible scars in the heart of the city for years to come. Coming from the south, you may not realize the extent of the destruction caused by the bombardments. During the war, the Syrian army occupied the south of the city, while “rebels” and “terrorists” occupied the northern quarters.

“We don’t see the destruction in the south,” explains an Aleppo. “The terrorists were less equipped than the regular army. They didn’t have heavy weapons, so the damage is more limited. On the other hand, “he continues,” if you go to the northern part, you can see the consequences of the aerial bombardments of the Russian air forces supporting the Syrian army. “He further explains that it is quite easy to tell if a house was bombarded from the sky: “Bombs falling from planes completely flatten buildings, like a mille-feuille,” he said.

The Carmelite Sisters of Aleppo have firsthand experience of the weapons used: on the evening of October 22, 2016, they heard a whistle in the air. The superior, Sister Anne-Françoise, still remembers the six-meter missile which crashed in the convent garden but did not explode. She never knew where it came from: the Syrian deminers who came to extract the machine would not say it. But she claims to have been protected by Saint John Paul II, who is celebrated on this day.

Ruins of Aleppo

The most affected part of Aleppo is in the Old Town, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: hardly anything remains. In fact, it was the epicenter of the fighting between the two camps. Nothing has been rebuilt since. The rubble is still there, pushed to the edge of the streets to let the cars pass. The narrow streets of the historic center have become paths lined with mounds of debris and waste of all kinds.

Fratelli tutti before Laudato Sì

The situation of the inhabitants of Aleppo today is such that the only way out is fraternal mutual aid: between Christians, between Christians and Muslims, between everyone in the city. Unfortunately, cleaning up the waste will have to wait.

Father Hugo Fabian Alaniz, an Argentinian priest, settled four years ago in the poorest district of Aleppo. During the siege, it was the red zone from which no one could enter or leave, because of the roadblocks and, above all, because of the snipers who fired from the buildings.

He rebuilt his church and little by little he enlarged his parish, not out of folly of grandeur, but to come to the aid of a growing number of families in need. Every day, student volunteers organize tutoring classes for children in the converted basement of the parish. There are sewing and cooking laboratories, and all kinds of activities for the 1,200 families supported by the parish. The kitchen laboratory prepares meals delivered to your home. The sewing laboratory recycles second-hand clothes. Nothing is thrown away.

How he gets along with so little is a daily miracle. When he moved here four years ago, he took in 24 children. There are over 500 today. “Families get to know us through ‘word of mouth’, and it never stops,” he says.

His parish also welcomes the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s a swarm of people who come in all day. A place of life, and of faith.

Father Hugo Fabian Alaniz

A drop of milk

In a small street in Aleppo, we find a store with two young volunteers dressed in light blue sweaters who distribute powdered milk to families. It is called “A Drop of Milk” and is run by the Marist Brothers. The association provides one kilo of powdered milk per month to 3,000 families with young children, and condensed milk for newborns. It is unique in its kind: it is indeed the only association in the whole city to offer such a service.

Milk is a luxury here. At 12,000 Syrian liras per kilogram, with an average salary of 65 to 70,000 liras, milk is inaccessible to most people. The volunteers who distribute the milk make sure each family does not get more than they need and open each package so that the milk is not sold on the black market. At this price, powdered milk is like gold.

A volunteer from "A drop of milk"

A volunteer of “Une Goutte de Lait”

The Armenian orphanage

Among the Christian communities involved in the aid, there is also the Armenian apostolic community. Every day, Orthodox Armenians distribute hot meals to the elderly in front of their cathedral. Most of those served are from the Armenian community, but here too the poor are helped regardless of their religion. In the premises of the parish, volunteers prepare Armenian dishes, wrap them and distribute the food pack to retirees who queue outside. These are all people who look very dignified: there is nothing to indicate that they are in a situation of great poverty.

“The poor never ask,” one clerk tells us. “They accept what we give them, but they don’t come begging,” he says, explaining that all these people were well off before the war, as their clothing and education testify. But after 10 years of war and 5 years of economic crisis, they have nothing left.

On the first floor of the building, the Armenian community opened an orphanage for 38 boys and girls aged 8 to 22. Everyone has a different story to tell. Marina, 21, arrived here after fleeing Hassakah to the north, where her father and brother were killed by Islamist militiamen. Marina has two sisters: one lives in Jordan and the other in Damascus, but cannot accommodate her. They also lost their mother, who died from a serious illness.

Very strong links have been created within the orphanage: the children consider themselves as brothers and sisters, and call the supervisory staff “tata” (aunt). Those who have left the institution and who are still in Syria often return for their holidays. Former residents who have gone to live abroad send money to support it.

The Armenian Orthodox Orphanage in Aleppo

The Armenian Orthodox Orphanage in Aleppo

The Greek Orthodox Relief Center

Not far from the Armenian Cathedral, the Greek Orthodox Church has also established a relief center. The queue starts on the sidewalk. Inside, needy families receive vouchers. The volunteers have also just received a delivery of warm shoes for the winter.

“Everything that can be done is done,” said an official at the center, opening an envelope containing 47,000 Syrian lire for an elderly person. Not much, given that a kilogram of meat costs more than that, and the electricity supplied by private collective generators costs 15,000 Syrian liras per ampere per week, which is about enough to light a few. light bulbs, but not for lighting an oven. or a running washing machine.

Greek Orthodox Church distributes money to the needy

Greek Orthodox Church distributes money to the needy

800 meals are also served each day and seventy percent of those assisted are over seventy. The young are already gone, the old people are just trying to survive.

Aleppo had 300,000 Christians before the war, only 20,000 remain. The help of the Churches is crucial for these people.

Aleppo destroyed by war

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