By Eva-Maria Kolmann
The last few Easters were sad ones for the people of Aleppo. Good Friday was ever present, the light of the resurrection seemed far away. Only last year, Sister Annie Demerjian said to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “Our children get coffins for Easter.” The name Aleppo had become synonymous with death, sorrow and horror.
Even though it is difficult to believe, because it is not being reported by the media: this year, the situation in Aleppo has improved and the people are once again looking forward to Easter. Today, Sister Annie can say, “Thankfully, we feel a lot safer. The bombing has ended. On this Easter feast I am so happy, just like all the other Christians who will be celebrating it in peace after so many years of war. Now we feel a lot safer as we go to church and come back from church. We thank God that the situation has improved. I wish that all the people who fled could return to their restored houses next year at Easter. I hope that peace and love will gain the upper hand in our country so that we can all be united once more.”
Nevertheless: the great suffering that the people of Aleppo have endured has not been forgotten. Many things are still lacking. Especially in Holy Week, believers try to unite their pain with the Way of the Cross of Christ. Najib Halak, a Christian from Aleppo, said, “Under these circumstances we try to follow Christ, who walked the Way of Sorrows. We join him along this path in order to achieve glorious resurrection with him.”
Lina Nalanand, a believer from Aleppo, has also given this some thought, “Certainly, what we have been through is difficult and painful, but of course we cannot compare it with the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Christ gives us hope, strength and the victory of life, which is why we always say, ‘If God is for us, then who can be against us?’”
Rana Idelbi, an older lady from Aleppo, is finally looking forward to Easter again this year. “This is an incredible feeling for me. I know that I am getting old, but I am just as excited as the children on the feast days.” She has also endured much suffering and says, “It is true that we are tired and afraid and many martyrs have died, we have cried and many of our brothers and relatives have left because of the war. But even under these circumstances, I knew that the Lord is always with us and my faith has grown. I pray with more humility than before and I know that the Lord is with me and with all of us.”
Sister Annie thanks all benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need who stood by the people of Aleppo in these difficult times and who continue to help alleviate the hardship, which remains great, “I thank Jesus, who suffered for us on the cross and who brought us together within the faith with good people such as yourself, who have supported us. This is a blessing of God. Thank you for helping us carry the cross with patience.”
There are an estimated 40,000 Christians living among the remaining inhabitants of Aleppo and surrounding areas. These are the ones who were not able to flee the city because they are too poor and because the relatives to whom they could have gone had already left the country.
For months, Aleppo was surrounded on all sides by the Syrian army, which, supported by the Russian air force, was fighting against the rebels for control of eastern Aleppo. The Christians had long since fled the persecution by the rebels in the city. The news agencies reported on the bombardment of eastern Aleppo, but only very few also mentioned the rebel attacks on western Aleppo. These were carried out with sophisticated weapons and caused many civilian casualties and widespread fear and terror.
The Christians in Aleppo still feel very isolated and in constant danger, but stay because of their faith. Destitute, with scant supplies of food and basic commodities, shortages in medicine, electricity and water, they turn to the churches for help. These are now working together well to distribute emergency aid. Aid to the Church in Need is cooperating closely with the churches and is supporting several projects in Aleppo.