A dark Christmas for Christians in Syria

Publication Date: 23/12/2021

Source: La Croix International

In front of the nativity of Saint Elijah Maronite Cathedral in the Syrian city of Aleppo, Hana (first name has been changed) solemnly declares words from Sobhan al Kaliba an Arabic Christmas hymn: Glory to the word of God who is born!

The church, which was badly damaged during fighting in the old town during the war, held Christmas Mass in 2016 in the rubble. Fortunately, it got a new roof in July 2020.
But while its restoration has brought hope to Maronites and the country's 10 other Christian communities, their hearts are just not in it this Christmas.
In 2017-2018, we still had hope. Today, we have some left, but it is difficult to imagine this Christmas, explains Hana.
Among us, people are suffering in the cold, without electricity, she says.
The economic situation makes things even worse. Many say they would prefer the war to come back, that it was less difficult then, the young woman tells us.
In the streets of Syria's former economic capital, the glaring light of auxiliary LEDs, powered by generators depending on the means and the supply of liquid fuel, contrasts with the heavy darkness.
With one hour of government-provided electricity a day, a terrible economic crisis -- the average wage is $50 a month -- and trauma that is still raw, life in post-war Syria seems something from the twilight zone.
Hana works at the Hope Center in Aleppo, which helps families affected by the past decade through micro-projects and interest-free loans.
The idea of this initiative is also to explore the meaning of their presence as Christians here, explains Vincent Gelot, director of l'Œuvre d'Orient in Lebanon and Syria.
Launched in 2018, this organization is the culmination of a reflection led by two Christians from Aleppo, Safir Salim and Freddy Youssef, with l'Œuvre d'Orient.
The duo first launched a Study Zone in 2013 to meet the needs of students during the war.
The highly successful project has since spread across the country: in the city of Homs alone, there are now three study zones.
At least it's warm here. And there's light and Internet. It's much easier to work here than at home, explains Lath, a Christian who studies computer science.
We come almost every day to study, from morning to evening, adds his friend Salma, a Muslim who is studying to become a dentist.
Like most young Syrians, both of them only think of leaving after getting their master's degree. Their plan is to join their siblings in Germany.
This is the challenge for Salim, who spares no effort to support these young people.
Hundred percent of the young people say they want to leave, or 'travel' as we say here, he says.
They only think in terms of loss and abandonment. And by letting them believe that it is always better elsewhere, Facebook doesn't help them. It's their choice, but they have to find their way first, he explains.
You can't find much hope here. In the land of God, however, there is some, adds Salim, whose daughter was born in Aleppo hospital in 2012, literally between the bombs.
The exodus of Christians is an old story in Syria, dating back to the 19th century.
But after the last ten years, and at this rate, in five years, if nothing changes, they will all be gone, Salim warns.
According to Hope Center, there are only 140,000 Christian families in the country, compared to 560,000 in 2010.
And, to make matters worse, given the few prospects available to them, many young Christians have a phobia of starting a family.
Salim also started an organization in Homs called DISC (Development Impact and Support Center), which helps young graduates become more attractive on the job market.
l'Œuvre d'Orient has made a three-year investment of €500,000 in the project, which has already helped about 150 people.
Two English teachers who work at DISC – we'll call them Lamia and Nadine – say they are proud to be part of this initiative.
We are like a window for (the young people), and we can show them another facet of the post-war period, explains Nadine.
For many people, the post-war period is now an economic war .
But here again, the thirst for somewhere else is never far away. Thus, in recent days, a very close friend of Lamia has flown to Belarus.
For those who have no legal way to leave Syria, the Eastern European country is like a new El Dorado where the streets are paved with gold .
Thank God he is alive and in a tent in the forest somewhere in Poland, says 30-year-old Lamia.
He doesn't know where he's going, but he wants to succeed, and he said to himself, 'Anyplace but Syria', she adds.
Among the young Christians in training at DISC, girls and boys openly confide what they would like for Christmas.
Electricity, says one.
The smile of my sick mother, who has no medicine to cure herself, says another.
To be independent and have a nice family, confides a third.
All of them still live with their parents.

Link: https://international.la-croix.com/amp/religion/a-dark-christmas-for-christians-in-syria/15413

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