“Aleppo is waiting for you”
is the appeal of the Greek-Catholic archbishop of the Syrian martyred city, Monsignor Jean-Clement Jeanbart, to all the faithful, encouraging them to return to the homes they abandoned to escape the horrors of the war that in July 2012 caused the division of the city – the Western part, controlled by the government and the Eastern part by the rebels – until the forces of President Assad seized the whole area past December. The city which before 2011 was the economic capital of Syria, counted thousands of deaths and wounded, suffering for the lack of water, light, gas, food and medicines, and experienced the devastation of its precious artistic and cultural heritage.
The fear of ISIS declines, but security is lacking. Today the situation on the ground is slowly improving, but as the Metropolitan Bishop said
“the Country still lacks the security needed for long-lasting peace. Nonetheless the local population is less afraid of new attacks from ISIS.” After a blackout that lasted for months, electricity returned in some areas of the city and water should be returning soon. Water and light could represent the first important step to usher in the return of all those who fled the bombs.
“In order to favour their return – the prelate said – we launched the appeal ‘Aleppo is waiting for you’, with which we want to raise awareness on the project called “Return.” The purpose of the initiative is to stop the exodus of Christians from Syria: a veritable tragedy for our Church. 185 thousand Christians lived in Aleppo before the war, today they amount to less than half, according to estimates by the local Churches.
It will be impossible to bring them all back home – many have already emigrated abroad – said Msgr. Jeanbart, who said he believes in the positive outcomes of the project and in the “Divine Providence.” Over the past years his Greek-Catholic diocese benefited from the generosity of many benefactors who assured the implementation of several relief programs at various levels.
“Return project.” It will be the same also for the recently launched “Return” project, based on an awareness campaign among the faithful whereby they will be informed on the possibility of returning to Syria and rebuilding a serene life.
“Increasing numbers of refugees say they are not happy in the reception places where they are staying. They lack the means to support themselves and to live, and that is why they are considering coming back, especially if they receive the help they need”, said Msgr. Jeanbart.
The project involves two categories of people: “the most fortunate ones have the means to support themselves and do not ask for special help, and therefore have the possibilities to return to Aleppo on their own. But many are poverty-stricken and need material help and encouragement to return. The latter – the Metropolitan bishop said – will be paid their return-ticket home and will be given support to lead a dignified life until they find a job. The assistance they will receive will probably include, if necessary, also schooling and healthcare services. Furthermore, the Return project envisages temporary financial support (1 or 2 years) to pay the rent of a new home for those families who sold their own before fleeing from Syria.” 20 families have returned over the past weeks, and Msgr. Jeanbert hopes that “they may be signs of hope for those who will follow them.”
“Building to remain.” ‘Return’ is not the only project promoted by the Greek-Catholic diocese of Aleppo, which since the first months after the outbreak of the war has been committed to meet the increasingly urgent needs of the local population, including the Muslim community, despite the deep scars left by the armed conflict. Of 12 churches in 2011 only 6 remain, whose religious services are provided by 15 priests. All 9 schools run by the diocese continue holding lessons thanks to 250 salaried teachers and 60 volunteers.
Significant effort was made through the “Building to remain” project – ongoing for the past two years – providing for 22 relief interventions in four specific areas: pastoral care, education, charity and employment. “The situation today is devastating – the archbishop said –. Our diocese, together with other Christian Churches, launched a set of vocational training courses in view of the reconstruction, we organised funding initiatives for the resumption of commercial activities, solidarity loans, meetings for cultural and human development, along with specific awards to our best students to encourage them improve in the areas of education and work.”
“We try to rebuild our Country also in this way – concluded Msgr. Jeanbart – starting from its citizens.”