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In Syria, a pastor comes home to comfort his flock
Despite my sadness and feelings of desolation, God helped me find the words to console the wounded hearts of the ones and to acknowledge the courage of the others.
By Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart
I just returned to Aleppo from a trip the US, where I did my best to explain our situation to American Christians in several major cities on the East Coast. My journey appears to have been useful; so say the organizers of the awareness-raising campaign, the team of Aid to the Church in Need, which has been terrific in its dedication and commitment to our cause! They gave me the opportunity to address six major audiences in six different settings and to answer the questions of journalists present at the various conferences. Overall, I did more than 20 interviews with various US media in addition to a number of off-the-record meetings with reporters and producers.
Unfortunately, back in Aleppo, it was with great sadness that I found the archdiocesan headquarters destroyed and our cathedral gravely damaged. These great structures, built by my predecessors 200 years ago, their restoration much invested in in recent years, are now practically in shambles. It is hard to express the pain and sorrow I felt coming home to this disaster. Thanks to God all my priests escaped unharmed from the rebels’ bold attack on our archdiocese, with bombs raining down on the Christian quarter, home to numerous churches, much of the violence coinciding with the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
My priests and faithful are in a state of shock, as am I; I have been trying to catch my breath the past few days, to regain my composure and strength in order to give those around me courage again. For two weeks now my staff has been scrambling to salvage and bring to safety what they could. I have been working on securing archives, icons, manuscripts and other precious, irreplaceable and vital items. You can imagine how distraught and upset I have been. But despite everything I have been doing my utmost to remain present to my faithful and clergy—more than ever today, they need support and reassurance. For the time being, my administrative and bureaucratic duties just have to wait. In any case, my offices are pretty much destroyed and not usable. I do have to find office space where I can gather my files that are still intact and to get organized as soon as possible. I am well aware that we are living through a very difficult emergency period that calls upon us to be ever vigilant and available without fail.
Yesterday, on Sunday, I managed to preside over a requiem Mass said for the repose of the soul of one of my collaborators, who has joined the procession of martyrs, a victim of jihadist violence. In the afternoon I attended a recital put on by one of our Catholic school. My presence was meaningful in both instances, assuring the faithful that the Church is very close to both their suffering and their joy. Despite my sadness and feelings of desolation, God helped me find the words to console the wounded hearts of the ones and to acknowledge the courage of the others. Tonight I am due to attend a presentation of Byzantine chants in one of our churches. I hope we will not be tried yet again by mortar fire and bombs that have been aiming for us ever since Easter.
We are paying very dearly right now for our presence in this country, but we also know that the future for the younger generations will be brighter—once peace is established and freedom gained. In the meantime, bombs continue to fall on us every day. We do not know when that much longed-for peace will come, but we pray to God to grant us that peace as soon as possible and we fervently believe that he will do so because his goodness is great and his mercy ineffable. Pray with us, I beg you; your prayers will be great support.
Jeanbart is the Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo
May 20, 2015
The Kassawat family; killed in the Easter 2015 bombardment of Aleppo's Christian quarter: father Antoine; mother Minerva; and daughters Jessica (19) and Joelle (17). (Courtesy of Melkite Archdiocese of Aleppo, Syria.)