LETTER FROM ALEPPO, SYRIA

This description was written by the missionaries of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (Instituto del Verbo Encarnado) and the Institute of the Servants of the Lord and of the Virgin of Matará (Instituto Servidoras del Señor y de la Virgen de Matará), currently working in the city of Aleppo, providing spiritual and material support for the Christians of Syria – who have now been suffering for over two years from the scourge of war.

The sound of Christmas carols, mixed with tears

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©Aide à l’Église en Détresse-Aid to the Church in Need

 

Along with a small group of the faithful, we celebrated Christmas this year in the Cathedral of the Child Jesus in Aleppo. Together with them we celebrated that wonderful event that happened on a day like today – when the Lord, clothed in our flesh, made his entrance into this world as a little child – defenceless, poor, weak and in need of help.

The liturgy had been prepared with great care, with a group of enthusiastic young people forming part of the choir that participated in the liturgy. The people came to Mass, despite the cold and the profound darkness that engulfs Aleppo every day of winter from 4:30 p.m. onwards. They took part in the Mass with joy, and after the celebration we shared a coffee with them as a way of celebrating together the birth of the Redeemer. The simple and fraternal atmosphere that reigned in the happiness of this day led us to turn our thoughts from time to time to the cave of Bethlehem – where on that night the Most Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph were united, together with a few shepherds, around the new-born Child. In Bethlehem there was no sound of trumpets, nor any solemn announcement of the arrival of the King of Kings; there were no palaces to welcome him, but only a cave, the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, the shepherds, and the silence and darkness of the night… The tears and cries of God, now become a Child, mingled with the sound of the heavenly melodies intoned by the angels…

Here too the world outside the church followed on its usual course, without recognising the fact that God had become man and had been born like one of us, in order to save us. Only a small group of Christians were gathered around the manger – singing carols and rejoicing at the birth of the Redeemer – yet at the same time their faces bathed in tears, which ran down their cheeks as they contemplated the cave that echoed the cave of Bethlehem. Families separated by the war, some remembering lost loved ones; some had lost their homes just two days before Christmas as a result of the missiles; others celebrated the Christmas night queuing up in the cold, dark and rainy night in the hope of obtaining a few litres of water to take back to their homes. Many days there is no electricity at all, no water, no gas, no fuel with which to heat – even minimally – their homes in the bitter Aleppo winter.

Syria_Christmas_IVE_2

©Aide à l’Église en Détresse-Aid to the Church in Need

There was no ringing of bells on Christmas Eve in Aleppo, no light shows…

On the contrary, there was a dense darkness – like that deep darkness that once enveloped the earth before the coming of the Messiah and which cried out for the coming of the Saviour. Just as we continue, each day,  to listen to the sound of the explosions, which do not cease, not even at Christmas. The doors of the churches were all protected by police guards, in order to avert the risk of attack during the Christian holy days. There were children whose faces revealed their suffering – like an echo of the cry of the Child in Bethlehem; children wounded by the violence of war, orphaned children, refugee children, separated from their families, living in conditions of extreme poverty, homeless children who spend their days in the icy streets of Aleppo, begging for help, offering to work, holding out their little hands, cold and dirty, in the hope of receiving a coin. There were the married couples, the fathers of families, crushed because they were unable to provide anything better for their little children. There were some families who did not attend the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – because, after many days without water, it suddenly arrived for just a few hours, and they had to work urgently, cleaning their houses. For most of us, who do not live through such situations or do not hear at first hand from those who do suffer them, it is impossible to form an adequate idea of what it is like to live in the midst of so many privations.

So that was Christmas, as it was celebrated by the Christians of Aleppo… Outside, the world continued on its normal course. Gathered around the manger, we rejoiced at the birth of a Child who caused the angels to sing “Glory to God in the highest!”. And together with them we prayed, our tears mingling with the notes of the Christmas carols – Peace to men of goodwill; peace to the whole world; peace for the Middle East; peace for the so terribly afflicted people of Syria…

 

 

 

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