Syria: Christian life returns to the ruins of Darayya

Fifteen Catholic families are able to return to the Christian quarter of a suburb of Damascus thanks to the reconstruction of their homes with the help of ACN. This will secure the Christian presence in the place where, according to one tradition, the conversion of the Apostle Paul occurred. 

An elderly couple stands beaming in front of the entrance to their simple house. The traces of the Syrian civil war can be clearly seen on the outer wall of the modest property, but the scent of jasmine in the inner courtyard welcomes visitors from the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The interior, surrounded by bare brickwork, is equipped only with the essentials: a stove, a sofa, a wardrobe, a small table, and a few chairs. Yossef Farida and his wife proudly show their rooms. Their fingers are without jewellery, without wedding rings – the price of rebuilding their destroyed home.

Meeting with Christians in Darayya (Yossef Farida and his wife in their reconstructed house)
Meeting with Christians in Darayya (Yossef Farida and his wife in their reconstructed house)

The Faridas are one of four Christian families who have now returned to Darayya, a suburb of Damascus which was left in ruins by bombing, and have rebuilt their homes using their own resources. Before the civil war, the city had around 300,000 inhabitants, who were relatively well-off thanks to a flourishing agricultural sector and the suburb’s renowned furniture factories, which processed the high-quality wood from the surrounding area. However, soon after the outbreak of the war, Darayya became a centre of the uprising against the Assad government, with rebel groups and government troops clashing in heavy fighting for four long years. During its siege, much of the city was controlled by the Martyrs of Islam Brigade. By the time an agreement was reached between the government and the insurgent forces in 2016, 90 percent of the city had been destroyed.

During the war, the churches in the area were subject to vandalism and their icons were stolen. The destruction of Darayya came at a huge cost to its historical diversity – the suburb of Damascus is notable for its historic Christian presence, dating back several centuries. Some Christian traditions hold that Darayya is close to where the conversion of the Apostle Paul occurred on his way to Damascus.

“In the years after 2016, many Muslims were able to return to the city and rebuild their homes. But many of the 150 Christian families who had lived there never returned, as their homes had been razed to the ground. Many have now moved to neighbouring towns, and some have emigrated to Europe or Canada,” explains Marco Mencaglia, project director of ACN, after the visit to the city. “Those whose homes have not been completely destroyed are longing to return to Darayya. However, most of them lack the means to rebuild or renovate them.” This is the case with Abou Rashad, a family man, who stands in his bombed-out ground floor flat and points to the neighbouring desert of rubble that was once the garden. He is grateful for ACN’s help. The international charity recently committed to financially support the reconstructing of the homes for 15 Catholic families, to secure the Christian presence in Darayya.

Meeting with Mgr George Jbeil, Melkite Catholic Économe Général, in Darayya
Meeting with Mgr George Jbeil, Melkite Catholic Économe Général, in Darayya

Father Georges Jbeil, who is now the financial manager of the Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Damascus, was previously the parish priest in Darayya and is delighted that life will soon be able to resume in the parish. “We completed the reconstruction of St Paul’s church in 2022, with the hope that the parishioners would return soon. But not many have returned yet, so there are still no services in the church. That’s why we are so grateful to ACN for the help.  Thanks to your love, 15 families will be able to return to their homes soon and fill the parish with life again. In this way, the light of faith and the witness of the Gospel can shine again.”

 

By Sina Hartert.

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