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Letter from Aleppo No 21

04/03/2015: Syria

Opening my computer to write this letter, the phone rang to inform me that mortars hit Azizié, a central neighborhood of Aleppo, near the Latin Cathedral, just after Mass. A few minutes later, Saint Louis Hospital informed me that several people with serious injuries were taken there and several people were killed including a 19-year-old, Sima K.

Unfortunately, this is our daily 'bread' for a long time now, especially these past 20 days, when armed rebels have been break into our neighborhoods every day, throwing mortars and gas cylinders filled with explosives and nails, killing some and injuring others. They also have snipers; one of the latest victims of snipers is Nour A., 25 y old, scout guide, and basketball champion. Innocent victims of blind violence. Our hospital is full of wounded treated free of charge as part of our "civilian war victims" program.

Sad anniversary. In a few days, we will begin our fifth year of war in Syria since it began in March 2011. In Syria, nobody had ever imagined that things would happen this way; Nobody wanted this war in Syria, even the most critical of the government; Nobody in Syria, and I mean in Syria, wanted the destruction of the country, the death of 250,000 people, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of amputees and/or injured people, the exodus of millions of refugees and the displacement of eight millions, such a suffering.

Sad anniversary. The Syrians suffer seeing the name of their country associated with international terrorism, namely that 30,000 people from 80 countries came to do Djihad in Syria as if Djihad was part of the tradition of Syria, as if Syria was a country of Islamic extremists! Syria was the example of tolerance and coexistence; Syrians, Muslims or Christians, are considered Syrians before claiming their religious affiliation.

Sad anniversary. The Syrians fear Daech (ISIS), this monstrosity that wants to establish an Islamic state that has nothing to do with true Islam, and which has been "training" with thousands of Syrians long before they killed US, British or Japanese hostages.

Sad anniversary. The Syrian Christians are very upset about the attacks by Daech (ISIS) against the Chaldean Christians in Mosul, the brutal murder of Egyptian Copts in Libya, and more recently by the kidnapping of Christian Assyrians in Hassaka province in Syria. Who will be next? The Syrian Christians are afraid ...

Sad anniversary. We are still suffering from a shortage of everything, from fuel, gas, to electricity, water, medicine and many other essentials. The people of Aleppo have had a cold hard winter this year, with no other heating medium. We have a shortage of water as it is provided only one day out of six - [water sources in areas controlled by the rebels].

Sad anniversary. The cost of living has soared; the prices of different products have become 5-10 times the price of pre-war. People have become poorer ... unemployment is scary. 70% of the Syrian population live now below the poverty line.

Sad anniversary. The Syrians are desperate. They see no way out of the crisis. There is a continual flow of people leaving the country and without hope of return. Syria, and particularly Aleppo, is depopulated of its Christians. We are afraid of ending up like the Christians in Mosul ... or those people in Hassake ... or die of a random shell, or shot by a sniper.

Sad anniversary. The Syrians are, to say the least, disappointed by the attitude of Western governments and the international community who are arsonist firefighters trying to extinguish the fire that they have themselves fueled, encouraged and supported in our houses by televised statements and who have not the courage to initiate a political solution because it does not conform to their selfish interests. We are dismayed by all the media that show or just talk about the plight of 300,000 people living in the neighborhoods of Aleppo controlled by armed rebel groups, forgetting the 2 million people living in the part under the control of the government and others who suffer as much as them - suffering caused by the armed rebel groups - , if not more.

Given these tragedies, these disappointments, these sufferings, the anxiety, the fear, the despair, what can we do? ... Is there anything to do? ... Why Stay? ... Why stay? ... Are we heroes or fools? ... Is there hope of return to a normal life? ... To a return of peace?

The inhabitants of Aleppo who stayed give us lessons of courage and reasons for hope. When we see them do any work to survive, send their children to school and college despite the insecurity, leave each morning their home without any guarantee of not being hit by a bullet from a sniper on the street, stay home knowing that the next mortar may fall on their building, day by day, trusting only in themselves and in God ... Yes, when you see their courage and resilience, it silences our unanswered questions, it encourages us and continue.

This is how we, the Blue Marists, continue our various programs and projects.
The "Blue Marist housing program for the displaced" continues and its path goes in crescendo. We have already helped 57 displaced families; and if we have not been able to do more, it is only for the lack of resources.

Our monthly food baskets distribution continues. These baskets contain 22 items; In addition to commodities like sugar, rice, cheese, jam, lentils, oil, etc., there are eggs, meat, chicken and powdered milk for children; "The basket of the mountain" is for displaced Christian families in DJabal Al Sayde, "The Blue Marists basket " for displaced Muslim families, and "The Ear of God Basket" to families living in extreme poverty without being displaced. Besides the food, we provide clothing, mattresses, blankets and kitchen utensils, etc. Soon, we will distribute shoes to all children. Every day, we distribute hot meals (lunches) to 550 people.

The "Civil War Wounded" program continues its mission through treatment, free of charge, in the best hospital in Aleppo, of civilians wounded by bullets or missiles, thanks to the generosity and volunteerism of the best doctors and surgeons in the City, and the dedication of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. In two years, we have solved hundreds of cases, and rescued dozens of injured. In recent times, unfortunately, it is non-stop work as we have many civilians injured by mortars falling randomly.

Of course, we continue caring for children and youth who are our top priority.
The two projects "I learn to Grow" and "I Want to Learn" deal every day with over 150 preschool and school age children who do not go to school for various reasons. 
“Skill School” for teens and "Tawassol" for young mothers, resumed after the Christmas holidays.

Our training center, "MIT" (Marist Institute for Training) did not stop. We are inundated with requests to participate in workshops organized twice a month for a period of three days each for 20 young adults. Recent workshops related to "time management", "How to write a report", “Creativity”, and “accounting with a computer program”. The center also organizes monthly conferences which are also much appreciated.

Finally, "Oasis", our spiritual formation center for young Christians, has been organizing retreats for several months or monthly seminars for young people. It is becoming increasingly popular.

On Friday February 27, a day of training was held for 70 volunteers of the Blue Marists. We addressed the issue of the Year of the Marist worldwide "be sensitive to the plight of the most neglected", as was San Marcellin Champagnat who took care of an illiterate and the dying boy, who led him to found the Congregation Marist Brothers. Our volunteers are amazing, sensitive to others, dedicated, respectful of the dignity of others, and live solidarity in the way of the Gospel.

What consoles us is the Blue Marists network of thousands of friends we have around the world, and the hundreds of messages of friendship and solidarity we receive each month from the five continents.

Dear friends, we appreciate very much your friendship, your solidarity comforts us, your donations fund us and allow us to move forward, your encouragement and prayers stimulate us.

A century ago, in 1915, there was the genocide against the Armenians and Syriac by the Ottomans. A Dominican priest, Jacques Rhétoré, a great sage, witnessed it and wrote his testimony in a book called "Christians to the Beasts". Unfortunately, Christians in our country are now prey to the savages. Will we be the witnesses or victims of a possible second volume of this book?

However, despite everything, even if we lost some of our illusions, we keep our hope intact because without it, our faith is meaningless.

Aleppo, March 1, 2015
Nabil Antaki for the Blue Marists
FaceBook -  MaristesAlep | Twitter -  @MaristesAleppo

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