Aleppo, 20 November 2018
Just six months after opening of the Church of the Annunciation, and by grace of God, it has already become a center of prayer and various activities, even in the midst of devastation caused by the war. The people of this community are responding with so much joy and enthusiasm which is in stark contrast to the physical reality in which we live.
Our missionary work in this area mostly consists of ‘reconstruction’. Anyone who has visited or has seen photos of the District of Midan-Aleppo, knows the condition of the area and the need to restore the buildings. Although there is a lot to do in this area, we don’t refer to this reconstruction as a priority. Our greatest priority is ‘reconstructing the lives’ of the community with hope, healing wounded souls and creating spaces of healthy recreations; focusing on these areas will help to identify traumas that may be harbored in the interior of the soul following the war that’s been marked by hatred and revenge. To help ensure that the Spirit reigns in their hearts and their community, to guide them to that longed freedom that the sons and daughters of God have. Renewal of our small Aleppo’s Christian community is the priority.
As you know, the month of May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was providential that the first month, following the inauguration of the new church, was the month dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Every day a great number of people gathered in our church to honor the Blessed Mother by praying the Rosary and by singing the Litany with a beautiful, heartfelt oriental melody. Many of the faithful originally come from afar but because of the war they were forced to leave their homes and move to other parts of the city. I want to tell you something that is curious as it is cute: during May and June, the month of Mary and the Sacred Heart, many people made a vow to dress as the Virgin Mary (or Saint Anthony) the whole month, as a permanent thing! In different parts of the city you can see this people without fear, reminding us what it is to live by faith. You see them in the streets, in the offices, in university… Beautiful!
Upon the opening of the church and facilities, a number of women and young people were encouraged to enroll in the new hairdressing course. They were among the first group of people to register and attend the course in this war-destroyed area. In August, we began the makeup course and we are currently offering the second course of hairdressing. We try to obtain the best available teachers and provide at our fingertips and finish the course they obtain official certificates that enable them to work. Perhaps, looking at it from the outside, some seem very banal, but certainly that these ladies and young people for the mere fact of meeting, change of environment and share experiences have found in this an incentive for the ‘ re-start ‘.
In Syria, summer break begins in mid-May. This summer’s children and youth activities were very simple but met with a great deal of excitement and anticipation from the youth.
After an extensive effort to organize summer programs, we began to offer English courses for children, youth and adults, last May. We were able to find two very qualified teachers whose experience in teaching will greatly impact those participating in the courses. With this course, as with all others, including the upcoming computer course, we aim to provide young people with the opportunity to develop their skills which will lead to better job opportunities.
At the beginning of the school year, September 2018, we enrolled about 40 children in a catechism course. The Center for Catechesis in Aleppo has provided five volunteers to assist us in this endeavor. These volunteers are a group of young people that have gone through a two-year catechetical training and are fully equipped to faithfully convey church doctrine and incorporating beautiful and meaningful recreational activities to support what they are teaching.
One program that has, without a doubt, had a tremendous impact on the life of our church is the ‘little school of support’. Every day, no less than 30 children, come to the center to receive tutoring and homework support. Leading the program are seven university students who are from the area.
All of these activities are combined with activities that support spiritual formation and growth. On Tuesdays, we also have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The devastation that our community has endured during the war is immense. However, through the loss of loved ones, separation of families, sudden impoverishment, followed by looting and destruction, the people have been faithful to their principles. It has been this strong and unfaltering faith that has enabled them to move past the panorama of evil they have experienced and the same faith that continues to help them finding meaning in this life.
We continue providing these programs and activities to the faithful who approach our ‘Social Action Group’. In addition, we continue “home visits” to families in devastated areas, in order to identify the most extreme cases that need our assistance. As I have mentioned before, many of those who have not immigrated are old people in need, or have disabilities and unfortunately many of them are alone.
As you know, the SSVM sisters also have a space in the Vicariate, the residence for the college girls. Father David Fernandez, in those difficult years, inaugurated the residence for college boys; it was the first one in Aleppo. At the end of July, I stayed in charge of this residence for young men, located next to the Vicariate, west of the city. With the departure of Father David from this Mission at the end of July, I was assigned to oversee the residence for university males, which is located next to the Vicariate, west of the city. At this time there are 15 students from the interior of Syria and a handful of others who have relocated due to a variety of family situations. They are all Christians of different rites, including Armenian Orthodox, Greek Melkite and Greek Orthodox; however, they have in common a strong Christian identity, and not only the sad reality they went through with their families. According to our possibilities we try to help them as they are the future of the church in Syria.
It is important to highlight the beautiful and heroic task that Father David and Father Rodrigo Rojas performed during those hard years filled with conflict, and in which Aleppo was taken by Islamic groups, helping the religious communities (SSVM, Carmelites, and Sisters of charity) as different families and young people. We commit ourselves to pray for them, and to intercede for their new apostolic work in their new missions.
We give thanks to the volunteers who have passed through the Church of the Annunciation in the past months, as well as to all the people who have helped and continue to support our endeavors. Specially to Wissam who is from Aleppo and is now in the 2ndyear of philosophy in our Congregation in Italy. During his vacations hehelped us with some nice activities.
Thanks to the benefactors for helping us to realize many of our dreams in this time. It is undoubtedly a just cause to continue helping those who are descendants of the very first Christians and now custodians of this land that remains rich in Christian tradition. Supporting the church is also supporting the beautiful people in the community of Aleppo.
For the first time in many years we will celebrate Christmas in our church (Our Lady of the Annunciation) following the war. On this most Holy Night we will ask the Child God to infuse His Peace in our hearts, and also for the gift of peace for this country and its people.
In Mary His Mother,
Fr Hugo Fabian Alaniz
(firstname.lastname@example.org; whatsapp: +963991121167)