Aleppo: The Road To Recovery
Since the battle for Aleppo ended over a year ago, the historic Syrian city has fallen out of the headlines. However, the work has only just begun and the church is being rebuilt and restored.
Father Ghassan Ward is a local priest who lost everything in the war.
“My bishop was kidnapped… my church was ruined by rockets, and I lost my two sons who had to leave the country,” he said.
“So, you can say I am like many Syrians, who also lost everything.”
Image: Father Ghassan Ward
More than four years have passed since Father Ward’s church was destroyed. The damaged building is yet to be reconstructed. The priority has been helping families in need.
When eastern Aleppo was recaptured from the Islamic State, Christians were able to return home. This part of the city was previously a no-go zone and one of the most destroyed parts of Aleppo. Now on the streets, there are many women and children, but almost no men.
Image: The shattered interior of a heavily damaged Greek Orthodox church in the old quarter of Aleppo.
“Many men are in the army, have been killed or have ‘travelled’” said a local contact.
Syrians say someone has ‘travelled’ when they have fled Syria to escape the violence or to avoid being forced to join the army.
Over five million Syrians left their country. Many young people also fled, leaving a large hole in the social infrastructure of Aleppo. Many elderly have been left without their children to take care of them.
“Many of them have no-one in their life right now. Some are in such poor health that they can’t leave the house or even their bed,” said Joseph, a volunteer who helps support 650 families.
“About 70 per cent of those families are elderly people,” said Joseph.
Creating opportunities for training and employment is seen as one of the biggest priorities to help the city of Aleppo get back on their feet.
Father Sami is a local priest who also believes the church has an important task ahead, of fostering understanding between different religious groups in Syria.
Image: The text on the billboard translates: 'It [Aleppo] will be back.'
“We need to prepare the people for the future,” said Father Sami. “We opened a clinic, distribution and educational centre in eastern Aleppo. It is the first time that the Church has a presence in this Muslim environment.”
“This is the time to be open instead of closed,” he continued. “In the first place, as different churches to each other, but also between Christians and Muslims.”
“We were criticised by all when we started helping Muslims… But this is what Jesus teaches us. Some of the Church said, ‘Christians first’, but I say ‘together first’.”
Whilst Aleppo has been liberated from the Islamic State, huge portions of the city are still left in disarray and people are dependent on charity. But restoration has begun. People are finding jobs and the church has a presence in previously Muslim dominated areas. The willingness of people to find unity with those of different backgrounds is crucial to seeing the city recover.
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