We are preparing for the arrival of the Lord; Christmas will soon be here. God has been made incarnate and wants to live among us. There is joy in heaven; the angels are singing and rejoicing in the glory of their Lord. The same cannot be said here on Earth. Mary and Joseph go from inn to inn searching for a place for Mary to give birth. This is the story that was passed down. God does not have an earthly home in which to be born.
Similar to that of the Holy Family, the Ghattas family’s search for lodgings was long and hard. Only that Lina and Elias tried for seven long years to return to their house in the Syrian city of Homs, which had been destroyed by mortar attacks in 2012. The city district was occupied by armed groups. Elias and Lina were turned away from lodging after lodging until they knocked on the door of the local church and received help – thanks to an emergency relief programme run by the foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – which made it possible for them to pay the rent for a flat.
Their district was liberated in 2017. Elias and Lina hurried to check on their house after five years of waiting. All that was left were ruins: there were neither doors nor windows, the power lines had been stolen, the sanitary facilities destroyed. They hardly had the money to pay for rent, let alone renovate their house.
Year after year at Christmas, they laid the same wish at the feet of the Holy Child and Redeemer, who had been made human among the poorest and those most in need. God answered the pleas of His people: thanks to the support provided by people of good will from countries far away whose generosity helps war-stricken Christian families, the Ghattas family will be able to spend their first Christmas at home this year.
However, there will be no presents for the Ghattas this year – neither from St. Nicholas nor from the Christ Child, Father Christmas or the three Magi. Before the war, they used to have a large and – according to Lia – “beautiful” Christmas tree at home. The small artificial Christmas tree that is now standing on a small table in a corner of the living room has been borrowed. Something else is missing in their new home, something that never can be replaced, something without material value. “We miss all of the memories, family photos, mementos from our ancestors, presents received in the past at holidays…” This may sound sad, but is not important to Elias. Because Christmas is all about a birth. And this year, the Ghattas are going to personally experience the miracle of Christmas. “For me, returning home is like being reborn. I can’t even begin to describe the joy I am feeling. After so much suffering and uncertainty, I feel safe again. I am filled with hope for a better life. Christmas reminds me of the feeling of security that comes from being in a family.”
However, the couple’s joy is overshadowed by thoughts of their two sons. Their eldest son will probably not be able to spend Christmas at home. “He was doing his military service when the war broke out in 2011. Although the term of duty used to be two years, he has now been in the army for eight. No one knows when he will be able to return.” The good news is that he is still alive – not everyone is that lucky. Their second son Bashar is suffering the fate of many other young people in Syria and is “very frustrated about the lack of work opportunities or future prospects.” His situation is even more difficult because Bashar lost an eye when a mortar bomb exploded next to their house.
Lina smiles faintly and tries to find hope, “We will go to church on Christmas Eve. There we will sing Christmas songs and pray with all the other people. Then we will return home and I will prepare the traditional Syrian meal Kibbeh, which are oblong meat balls made with bulgur and ground meat. We will sit close to the oven and celebrate until late into the night.”
At this time, they will also think with gratitude about all of the people who helped them in their time of need. Elias points to a square, sand-coloured rock under the small Christmas tree that bears the inscription “Jesus is my rock”. The stone was given to them by the ACN foundation at the blessing ceremony held at the beginning of reconstruction. “We have no words to express our thanks to the foundation ACN and all those who support it. They gave us hope and a new chance in this life. From the bottom of our hearts we hope that God will strengthen and support them in their efforts to continue to help those most in need and sow hope.”
Lina nods her head and adds, “There are two more wishes that I carry in my heart and that I will also lay before God: that peace may reign all over the world and that my son will return home safe and sound.”