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From Gaza to Aleppo: “a ray of light in the darkness” of war, summer camps for children promoted by local Churches

“A ray of light in the darkness” of the Gaza Strip and in Aleppo, two battlefields without peace or joy but where hope is still cherished, especially if fostered by children and youths for whom the Holy Family parish in Gaza and the Franciscan friars of the St. Francis of Assisi parish church in Aleppo have organized summer camps. “A happy oasis" to allow these children to forget the horrors of the war, even if only for a few weeks

“A ray of light in the darkness” of the Gaza Strip and Aleppo, two battlefields without peace, but where there still is a beacon of hope, thanks to children and youths

for whom the Holy Family Parish church in Gaza and the Franciscan friars of the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Aleppo have organized summer camps “to forget the deafening hiss of bombs and rockets, the dust of the rubble breathed for months, along with the fear of no longer seeing their family and friends”, Father Mario Da Silva, parish priest in Gaza, told SIR.

The past weeks’ clashes with the Israeli forces on the border of the Strip left more than 120 Palestinians dead, most of them youths, and thousands wounded, many of them left with lifelong disabilities. In Aleppo, owing to the absence of government institutions, after the cease-fire of December 2016 the threat of Islamic fundamentalism remains “high.” Over 60% of the city has been destroyed. What was once an industrial hub is now without electricity or drinking water. Aleppo is reduced to a small village where people are suffering from hunger and unemployment”, the Latin Patriarch Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, told SIR a few days ago. Desperate living conditions also in Gaza, where “electricity is supplied only 4 hours a day, residents suffer from a severe shortage of drinking water, a poor sewage system and 45% are unemployed, as many as 65% of young people and women”, said Sami El-Yousef, general administrator of the Latin Patriarchate.

Gaza Strip. “Since the end of May, 150 Christian children, from 4 to 16 years-old, have been gathering in the large courtyard of the parish church. For them – said Fr Da Silvia, who serves a community of approximately 100 Catholics (on a total of 1000 Christians living in the Gaza Strip, ed.’s note) – we have organized summer camps where they can do sport, play, participate in art and crafts and games, cook, pray, study and learn English. Thanks to the scouts working as camp counsellors and to our pastoral workers, until June 21 children will be involved in leisure activities which we hope will help them overcome the sad experiences characterising their daily life in the Gaza Strip.”

“The smile on their faces is the biggest reward we could receive. It gives us the strength to move forward in our mission and makes life in these war zones more humane”, said the parish priest.

Aleppo. “I grow with you” is the theme chosen by St. Francis of Assisi parish church for this year’s summer camp. For two months, we were told by the Custody of the Holy Land, 350 young people will have the opportunity to participate in activities that include singing, dancing, sport, study courses, arts and crafts and foreign languages, without forgetting prayer. Msgr. George Abu Khazen, apostolic Vicar of Aleppo pointed out: “With Christ we grow and grow in peace, in accepting the other and living out our human and Christian values.” The summer camp is a result of the common desire of parents and of the Church to ensure “children’s human and spiritual growth, like Jesus in the house of Nazareth, enabling them to grow in wisdom and grace before God and before mankind”

“Our goal is children’s growth, not only their leisure”,

said Mike Hallaq, director of the summer camp. “We want them to play, to be happy whilst doing something for their personal development.” This year, for the first time “the summer camp is open to parishes of other Christian rites in the city, in order to share the methodology and the goals, namely, to allow children to grow as disciples of Christ for their own good, whilst giving them the opportunity to develop their skills”, Hallaq pointed out. For Roula Mistrih, operating manager of the camp,

“children must see the summer camp as a happy oasis, a resource of joy in their lives.”

“I hope – Mistrih added – they will grow in their relationship with Jesus, whilst developing and practising their talents.” In a nutshell: “It’s a summer camp that brings joy, hope and peace to the heart of Aleppo.”

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