Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the pastoral work of the Sacred Heart Sisters in the Syrian city of Homs.
The church of Altip, in the Bab Al-Sebaa district, just south of the Old Quarter of Homs, is a social and pastoral training centre. “Years ago it was a Catholic school, but then the government banned all non-state schools. Since then we have used it as a catechetical centre, giving religious instruction to young people and adults, and we also hold social events and sports days here”, explains Sister Samia Syiej, the religious sister in charge of coordinating catechetical instruction for a group of Confirmation children.
Sister Samia is a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a congregation founded in Syria and inspired by Ignatian spirituality. “We have 12 houses throughout Syria. I am also involved in pastoral work with handicapped children. Our congregation is very active and we pursue a range of initiatives, both pastoral and social”, she continues.
Sister Samia points out the exact spot where the bombs fell, close to the centre of Altip. “Local families have helped us to repair two sections of the roof which were destroyed by the bombing. But in addition to everything else, what we now have to do is to help repair not only the external damage, but the damage within people’s hearts. I am a religious, and my first responsibility is to bear witness spiritually and help people. This is what moves me. We lived through the war and witnessed it close up. Catechesis is important in helping to heal the wounds.”
Working alongside Sister Samia are a number of young university students who divide themselves between the various different catechetical groups and actively help in this pastoral apostolate. A delegation from our international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) happened to visit while they were endeavouring to explain to the young boys and girls about the life of Jesus during his Passion and Crucifixion, a central point of the Christian faith. One of these catechists is Haya Elias. “Sister Samia taught us how to become closer to God, and now we are passing this on those who come after us.” She is studying philology at university and has always been a member of the group helping the sisters.
“I am very conscious that I owe my life to God and to the prayers of people like Sister Samia”, says a young man who is currently unemployed. He was in the army of the Assad government, compulsorily recruited to fight in the war. During an ambush he was captured by a rebel group and held prisoner for months. Everybody assumed he was dead, but miraculously he succeeded in escaping. “I thank God, and I thank the sisters for never having given up praying for me. I am so grateful to them today and so now I am helping them as a catechist.”
The Church in Syria is very much alive, despite more than seven years of war. The priests, and the religious brothers and sisters in the country have become a fresh source of hope for the people. “We have never stopped offering our help, our prayers and our accompaniment… Everything is being done through the collaboration of the priests, religious and laity. We all work together to organise these activities and, thanks be to God, we have some very active young people”, Sister Samia continues.
In addition to coordinating the religious instruction, Sister Samia also works in a home for mentally handicapped children. “We have always carried out projects with the help of ACN, even during the bloodiest moments of the war. Children and adults alike often need a word of hope, and want to grow stronger in their faith. The children come to the church, and they can also be very demanding. During the summer, for example, we held a number of youth camps, which gave fresh hope to many people. This is what motivates us.”
During the year 2018, and thanks to the generous help of our many benefactors throughout the world, the pontifical foundation ACN has been able to support more than 35 pastoral courses and programmes for young people and children in various different parts of Syria, for a total cost of 170,000 Euros.