In face of war and natural disasters, Church in Syria seeks to maintain people’s faith

Syria A damaged street in Syria after the Feb. 6, 2023, earthquake. | Credit: Courtesy of Bishop Hanna Jallouf

With the civil war that has been going on in the country for 12 years and the damage left by the February earthquakes in Syria, the Syrian Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Denys Antoine Chahda, said the Catholic Church is working to “maintain the faith of the people” and to “motivate them not to leave the country.”

Nearly 51,000 people died in Syria and Turkey due to the earthquakes, which left damage estimated at more than $118 billion.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Chahda said that “the people all took to the streets” because they feared they could be killed if their homes collapsed.

“They went out into the streets, they slept for days on the streets, others in their cars, others in churches, in parish halls. Many houses fell, a lot was leveled, many deaths,” the Syrian archbishop recounted.

The prelate highlighted the aid that the Catholic Church in Syria provided to the victims at that time, regardless of their religion.

“We did everything possible to be close, at the side of the people who went through moments of sadness and pain ... All the churches in Aleppo opened their parish halls. We received Muslims and Christians within the parishes and offered food, medicine, pillows, bed covers. We made sure people felt at home and we were able to give them a moment of peace,” he said.

However, Syria must deal with another drama, the Islamic terrorism that has afflicted the region for more than a decade.

“In the city of Idlib, in northern Syria, all the terrorists are there. They have already gotten into almost half of Syria’s territory ... All that crowd got in there and they’re not leaving,” he said.

Despite the strong presence of the Islamic State, the city of Aleppo is far from the terrorist group.

“The Islamic State didn’t reach Aleppo. They tried to get in during the war, but we didn’t see any, thank God. Many people from around the city didn’t let them enter. We are protected, thank God, and all this time we have not accepted the existence of those people, because they kill, they decapitate,” he said.

“In Turkey, in 1915, they drove out all the Christians and here the Islamic State is trying to remove all Christians from Syria in order to rule. We don’t want that!” he stressed. 

Syria also faces threats regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: On Thursday, the country said Israeli forces bombed airports in Damascus and Aleppo, Reuters reported.

The new Latin rite apostolic vicar 

Chahda also expressed his joy at the episcopal ordination of the new Latin rite apostolic vicar of Aleppo, Hanna Jallouf, celebrated in mid-September.

For the Syrian Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, “the Latin rite Bishop Jallouf came for all of Syria. His residence is in Aleppo. For us it means a lot, because the Latin Church is really loved in our land and does a lot of good for the people, so we received Hallouf as bishop, as Latin vicar for all of Syria.”

In Syria, six rites of the Catholic Church live alongside one another: the Maronite, the Chaldean, the Byzantine, the Syrian Catholic, and the Armenian Catholic, in addition to the Latin rite.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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