A firsthand testimony by Father Firas Lufti, a Franciscan and vicar at the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Aleppo.
“For the past year, the cameras have no longer been interested in Aleppo,” Father Firas says, a bit disappointed. His parish had become a symbol during the war: a sign of the Christian welcome to all, including Muslims. It has been one year since the city was recovered from jihadists in late December 2016; since then, people have realized that the reconstruction will be difficult. For the religious, victory tastes bitter …
“Do not forget us!” echoes the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari in L’Osservatore Romano. He was made cardinal by the pope to remain on the spot under the bombs. In fact, everything still needs to be done in this northern city, where the demolished houses are the symbol of a country on its knees, where the people lack everything. And the longest reconstruction will be that of hearts, says the Franciscan, especially for the children and the old, who are the “most damaged.” Not to mention that the war is not over in the rest of the country, as shown by the Israeli bombings in recent days.
For Father Firas, this makes the embargo “imposed” on Syria since 2011 even more unbearable. The embargo, renewed until June 2018, has serious consequences on the population. Faced with the suffering of the Syrian people, “the international community cannot remain indifferent,” says the Franciscan in Aleppo, calmly but firmly.
And on the ground, hope will not come from Trump’s promises to provide funding for Christians in Syria and Iraq. “Who will the funds really go to?” he asks. Nor will hope come from Russia’s opaque policy with neighboring Turkey, even if Father Firas recognizes that the Russian intervention freed the inhabitants of Aleppo from “the fear of living under the bombs.”
As for the future, especially that of the Syrian state, he says it can only be a political evolution, and not a “revolution.” That is to say, it must happen smoothly, without violence, and must respect the culture of the country, with its different tribes and its history. And it must unfold under international guarantee.
While waiting for this still hypothetical political change, he remains inspired by the exemplary witness of the “little flock” of Christians. Those who remained on site performed a gesture that the Franciscan qualifies as true “heroism.” It is necessary, he says, to support them for the long term, by helping with micro-projects like schools and businesses that allow families to remake the social fabric on a local level.