Thursday September 15, Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, will mark the end of the “Console Your People” initiative, to beg for peace in Syria and for the protection of all Christians in that country, which was promoted by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The idea received the support of Pope Francis, who, on September 15, 2019, blessed the icon of ‘Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of the Syrians,’ to be sent on pilgrimage to the 34 Catholic and Orthodox dioceses of Syria.
Three years later the pilgrimage will reach its conclusion during a procession through the city of Homs, which suffered terribly in the first years of the war.
The official program will begin in the Syriac Orthodox cathedral of Al Zinnar and end with a liturgical celebration, during which the different Christian denominations will pray together in the Melkite Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, which was rebuilt thanks to support by ACN after peace returned to the city.
The celebration will be attended by Melkite Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timothius Matta Alkhouri, Greek Orthodox Archbishop George Abu Zakhem, and Syriac Catholic Archbishop Rami Kabalan. ACN will also be represented in Homs by, among others, Executive President Thomas Heine-Geldern and Father Andrzej Halemba, former project director for the Middle East, who came up with the initial idea for the pilgrimage. Father Spiridon Kabbash, the Greek Orthodox priest from Homs who was entrusted with writing the icon especially for this occasion, will also be in attendance.
The next day, September 16, the icon will be taken to the Monastery of St. Elijah, in Rableh, where it will be enthroned. Over one thousand pilgrims are expected to attend.
During the ceremony the president of ACN will place at the feet of Our Lady a book with a list with the names of the 1,271 Christians who have been killed in the war between 2011 and 2022, according to data collected by Father Andrzej Halemba for ACN.
The final ceremony of the pilgrimage had to be postponed several times due to the pandemic. During this time the icon was safeguarded in the Carmelite Monastery of Aleppo.
The Syrian War has been going on for close to 11 and half years, and has caused at least 6.7 million people to be internally displaced and another 6.6 million to become refugees, according to UN figures.