For more than 25 years I have been in constant contact with Fr. Nabil, a Catholic- Melchite priest of Syria, married and father of five. We met as seminarians during a meeting of the Focolare Movement .
Since the start of the terrible war in Syria, it comes spontaneously to live the situation together. There are so many people praying for the people in Syria, invoking peace! Thus a spiritual communion was born, uniting also the two parish communities, his in Syria and ours in Switzerland. When his two older daughters couldn’t continue their studies in Syria, our community in Basel welcomed them. Last summer, since I had to change parish, I was able to take some time off to visit them. So the 40 days in Syria began!
I arrived in Beirut at 3:00 in the morning, where Fr. Nabil welcomed me at the airport. With a car full of people and luggage we headed for Syria. At the border we were warmly welcomed by the office director. While the car and documents were being checked, we were his guests. Then we continued our journey, along secondary streets – since the main ones were closed – passing through numerous checkpoints until we reached Fr. Nabil’s town, five km away from the city of Hama. We were accommodated in various houses and experienced a warm and joyful welcome. I discovered a lively community. Every evening in the parish, over 200 children and young people took turns to meet us. All in all, more than 900 people passed some hours together. It is a daily celebration. The 70 youths in charge are strongly committed despite the fact that they go to school or the university, or are studying for their exams.
As days passed I started to understand that this busy life is lived against a background of tearing pain. I discovered that the noise they hear daily come from the air raids. I found out that the stations of the “rebels” are just a few kilometers away, and that a week earlier, even a Christian village 12 km away had been attacked, with the death of many people. Various families can no longer buy the necessary living commodities. At night all is dark, and there are only LED lights with batteries. In many homes I saw photos of their sons who have died in the war. Almost none of the families is intact because over 3,000 youths have left the country. One day during a funeral, two grenades exploded and killed two people.
I asked myself: where do these people find the strength not to despair? The fact is that for several years now, a great community has developed, and draws inspiration from the Spirituality of unity. There are over 200 people organised in small groups, who nurture themselves with the Word of God and take care of the disadvantaged people and children. They have set up a small social centre which assists people with serious diseases and provide with the help of the solidarity of their fellow citizens and international friends, for the medicines and treatments. They regularly visit up to 450 families to support them in their serious needs. Even the relationships between the various religious groups are well taken care of. And so we were invited, along with the other priests of the city, for the Ramadan dinner with more than 200 Imams of the City of Hama.
Over the last week I had the chance to participate in the Mariapolis. There were over 200 people from various cities and regions of the country: Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia. For the first time since the start of the war, they could risk travelling and meeting one another. All have suffered immensely and lost their homes, jobs and even beloved relatives. But they have not lost their faith and love. (Ruedi Beck)
Source: Gens magazine January – March 2017, p. 38-40