In Shadow of War, Syrian Christians are Trying to Rebuild Their Lives

By Oliver Maksan

Painting in the streets of Homs: ACN photo

Painting in the streets of Homs: ACN photo

HOMS, Syria—Bright colors set off the sullen grey of destruction: children and young people have painted one of the streets in the ravaged Old City of this ancient Christian center in Syria. On house walls, the young artists have expressed in brilliant colours what moves them, what they hope for.

“The aim is to bring hope and joy back into our city,” Father Lukas Awad of the Syriac Orthodox Church explained. “Young people from our parish had the idea. They invited children from all over Homs. They wanted to bring some joy into the little ones’ lives.”

Homs had had a large Christian community before the Syrian civil war broke out. Many Christians lived in the Old City, where there are many churches. The Christian presence here goes all the way back to the first century. But the civil war eventually drove out the great majority of Christians from the Old City, which, although it is back under government control, shows many signs of war and destruction.

“The young people’s aim was to encourage Christians to return to their houses in the old city despite the destruction,” Father Lukas told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “And they were successful in this. Following this project many came back, especially to the painted street.”

Dozens of families have since been inspired by this initiative, the priest said, with a few families arriving every day. Many people have seen coverage of the project on television. “After all, the area is safe,” Father Lukas insisted, adding: “The infrastructure is also working, to some extent at least. We get electricity for three hours and then we are without again. But that’s OK.

“The main problems are the major destruction of the houses and the lack of work. Furthermore everything’s terribly expensive, including construction material. We, as a Church, do everything we can. Specifically, repairing homes is a priority for us.”

But lasting peace in the region is still far off. The people of Homs were reminded of this when ISIS recently conquered the town of Palmyra—and when, in late May, Catholic priest Jacques Mourad was abducted; most recently, on July 16, there came news that Father Antoine Boutros, parish priest of the Melkite Catholic Church in the city of Shahba in southern Syria, and his driver, Saud Alabdon were kidnapped on their way to Sunday Mass. “The people of Homs are in the grip of fear; they are afraid that the war will return,” said the priest.

But Father Awad warns against despair. “As Christians we trust in God. We must be confident despite the suffering. For our Lord Jesus Christ said: Fear not for I am with you.” Father Lukas reports that the people were praying a lot. And the fact that bishops, priests and those in religious orders had never left the side of their communities even in the worst times had strengthened faith in the Church. “We as a Church are doing everything we can to strengthen our faithful spiritually, as well as materially.”

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org