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Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. With news that the Islamist State is on the verge of defeat, and the possibility of peace is imminent, Jony Aznar of the charity Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Antoine Haddad, a 19-year-old member of the Armenian Catholic Church.
Having grown up during of the Syrian civil war, Haddad recalls what it was like living through the violence and chaos.
“I was in school, and all of a sudden, the building shook, and the glass broke, and I started to scream. I did not understand what was happening. We could only pray,” he said.
Haddad talked about the day he learned that an armed group had moved into his neighborhood.
“We could not move. Death came very close, and it is one of the worst things a human being can experience. But when the gunmen entered the buildings, we were able to escape the house,” said Haddad.
After fleeing to a relative’s home, they were forced to return as a result of financial difficulty.
“One Sunday, I felt that I had to go to Mass. I needed to pray in the church because I was spiritually tired. During Mass, my phone rang several times. It was my mother,” said Haddad.
She told me not to come home because shells were coming down on the neighborhood. But I couldn’t stay away from my family, so I went back to the house. I saw destruction everywhere. My father and brother were not home; they were helping a young man who’d been wounded by a shell. I was terrified. I cannot describe the pain I experienced then. Another day, I was preparing for an exam, and I went to the store to buy pens. I heard a very loud voice on the way back, and I ran to the house to see what had happened. It was completely destroyed, though a neighbor told me that my family was safe.
The trials of war brought a test of faith for Haddad as well.
“When I was young, my relationship with God was good, but since then, I’ve struggled at times. I always ask, ‘Why, Lord, why all this pain?’”
In spite of his struggles, Haddad persisted in his faith, and tooday he teaches catechism and helps out with educational programs run by his local Church.
“I love my country for one good reason: the special social life and fraternal spirit that exist in the Church. But I have to travel, because there is no future here. I dream of becoming an actor—so I can share humanitarian messages—and of eventually living peacefully in a country that has suffered so much,” he said.
“The pain, poverty, and hunger we’ve endured are enough.”
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. To learn more or to offer your help, visit churchinneed.org.