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Letter from Aleppo: 20 years a bishop--fighting for his faithful to stay in Syria
"The latest scourge that is beating us down today is the exodus of Christians, which is a form of deportation, condemning our faithful to a humiliating exile and our 200 year-old Church to a deadly drying up."
By Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart
IT HAS been 20 years, exactly. On Sept. 16, 1995 the Church saw fit to appoint me to lead the Diocese of Aleppo. It was a solemn day in my life; even as the celebrations surrounding an episcopal nomination were taking place and the festive atmosphere all around pushed all worries aside, I foresaw already, without saying a word, all the efforts and hard work that this responsibility would call on me for I didn’t know how many years.
Today, as I am writing these lines, bombs are raining down on the residential neighborhoods of the city. There may be as many as 60 dead and 300 wounded. The people are bewildered; they don’t know where to find shelter. Three months ago I had to move out of the archdiocesan residence, after it was heavily damaged in a bombing raid.
The residents of this hardworking city, who were pretty well off now find themselves in a miserable state, after four years of this unjust, barbaric and destructive war. They are without work, without resources, without security, without water, without electricity, deprived of all hoped-for pity.
It is four years ago today that my mission changed directions. Comforting the people and encouraging them to persevere has become an indispensable effort. Helping the faithful in their distress has become a priority for me. At the end of my career, because of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, I have been given a new mandate, with an uncertain outcome and uncertain guidance.
The latest scourge that is beating us down today is the exodus of Christians, which is a form of deportation, condemning our faithful to a humiliating exile and our 2000 year-old Church to a deadly desiccation. Our attackers have done everything to bring this about. Firstly, they have terrorized the people in the city; next they destroyed factories, all commerce, institutions and homes, forcing people to leave and try to make a living elsewhere. They finally made this desertion possible by allowing smugglers to organize massive convoys heading for the West. What a tragedy!
The phenomenon is very disconcerting—it appears to be apocalyptic and fata for our Christian communities in the Levant. But I, like many pastors of the people of God in Syria, remain confident because we believe in Him who has promised to remain with those who are His.
On this anniversary of my episcopate, I fervently wish that you join me in asking the Lord to protect the faithful He is given into my care, so that this Church that is two millennia old, of which I am in charge, can continue its prophetic presence in this beloved country. They are waging war on us, but we want to make peace. They seek to destroy; we seek to build. They are trying to exile us; we are fighting to stay put. In brief, all that we await is peace and we want to Build to Stay.
Aleppo, Syria Sept. 16, 2015
Metropolitan Jean-Clément Jeanbart is Aleppo’s Melkite Archbishop