Syria – The young people are sad because they see no future

da | 29/04/2013 | AAS BLOG | 0 commenti

(ANS – Damascus) – The civil war in Syria continues  to destroy  houses, human lives and now also the hope and the faith of the young people. “Abuna, we are tired… Abuna, where is God?” the young people ask Fr Munir El Rai, Salesian Provincial of the Middle Eastern Province. In the past two weeks he visited his “beloved Syria” as he calls it. In his report he speaks not only of the events of war but also of what the Salesians are doing to help young people to react to the situation.

On Monday 8 April, he went from Lebanon to Damascus to take part in a Retreat with 22 confreres. No sooner had he arrived than a powerful explosion struck the centre of the city. Once more, the blood of about twenty victims was added to that of many others. The people continue to live in absolute insecurity on account of the frequent explosions, and the shooting or shelling with mortar bombs. They breathe an air of suffering, sadness and pain. I tried to comfort two young people who had lost their father while he was on his way to work. In their grief they came immediately to us, as part of the family.
Damascus is a cosmopolitan city of about 5,000,000 people. The general situation there has never been as dramatic and worrying as in other cities, although the sounds of war are heard every day and almost every hour. In fact, the first explosion in Damascus occurred in December 2011 and others followed sporadically.
From July 2012 the atmosphere changed radically due to several attacks. Since then, our activities are held only in the morning, and with a certain amount of trepidation, on account of the dangers involved in transporting the young people. Their number has diminished noticeably.
At the beginning of October, about 80 young people took part in the opening of the scholastic and catechetical year in the primary and junior high school. On 21 October, a huge explosion in the centre of the city caused about 15 deaths at Bab Touma, a predominantly Christian area. Activities in the youth centre were suspended. Since then, the explosions have continued sporadically in various parts of the city. The pupils of the primary and junior high school have been brought in only rarely and their number has reduced greatly.
The war and the explosions have continued into 2013 with many victims. Despite this situation we have tried to do something. In January, life began to flourish again in the youth centre with about 140 boys and girls in attendance.  In February and March, however, the war prevented the ordinary activities and we tried to find other ways of contacting the young people and their families. These included: visits to about 100 families; small camps for groups of young people; a two-day retreat for some of the pupils of the junior high school, confessions for about 30 of them; a three-day retreat for some university students.  The feast of Don Bosco was celebrated on 7 February with about 80 children and young people present.
Since Easter we have noticed a pick-up in attendance. Before bringing in the young people, we ask the catechists and co-workers about the situation in the different areas, and we make a decision depending on the information we receive from them. If circumstances do not change, we hope to be able to carry on our pastoral and educative activities through visits to the families of our children and young people, and by getting small groups together for three-day meetings of human, spiritual and Salesian formation.


(ANS – Aleppo) – We publish the second part of the report on the situation in Syria, given by Fr Munir El Rai, Provincial of the Middle East Province. Today he speaks about  Aleppo, basing his report on information received from the Salesian community in that city, because the war situation makes it too dangerous to go there. Sadly, to confirm this, just yesterday news came of the kidnapping of two Bishops, the Syrian Orthodox Bishop and the Greek Orthodox Bishop of the city.

Aleppo is the most industrialized city in Syria. The situation there is really disastrous. Traffic is paralyzed to a large extent, and the impression is of a dead city. Some areas are like a ghost town. The centre of the city is dead. Many of the state schools have become refuges for people evacuated from their homes. The private schools are poorly attended and the more modern ones, in the suburbs, are often abandoned.
The hospitals run by the Sisters are still open but only a few doctors remain to render medical assistance. More than a thousand factories have been destroyed. Provisions, medicines and food are becoming scarcer every day. Often there is no electricity or water, and no communications.
Some of the Churches in Aleppo have been damaged.  Day and night , the people are frightened by the sounds of war. When the raids began in the area close to our house, some projectiles even reached our playground but fortunately there were no victims. There is also the fear of kidnapping of better-off people. This distressing situation makes movement in or out of the city very dangerous. After dark, no living person can be found in the streets.
The Salesians came to Aleppo in 1948 and opened a Technical School. When the schools were nationalized in 1967, our work for young people was limited to a youth centre and oratory. In the early stages of this war, the activities carried on as normal, but from July 2012 Aleppo has become the target of severe attacks and we have been forced to cut back on our activities.
At present the Salesian community consists of four confreres who remain in solidarity with the people. They are particularly close to the families of the young people who come to our youth centre and oratory. They visit in person the worst hit families and maintain contact through the means of communication. They have noticed that very often all that is needed is a simple visit or a smile, the assurance of our complete availability or a welcome in case of emergency.
Alongside this very necessary sign of closeness, there is often need of material help – provisions, medicine, money to cover necessary expenses … The door of the Salesian Community at Aleppo is open to anyone in need, because Christ’s love knows no bounds.
Many families come to our house every day simply because there is nowhere else they can go to spend part of the day together. Several youth groups meet in our house for their normal activities.  Those who are still there in the evening gather at the grotto of Our Lady to pray, to sing a hymn to Mary, and to hear the traditional Salesian goodnight.
We consider it important to continue to invite young people to these meetings which are planned  to suit different age groups. For the Year of Faith, the diocese and religious together organized a meeting on the theme “With You I have no fear”. This was held in our Salesian Youth centre. About 1,200 young people took part. There was no room left in the Church or in the playground. The meeting commenced with the Our Father and a prayer to Don Bosco, and included music, song and dance, as well as sketches written by the Salesian animators. There was time for reflection on the theme of the meeting, beginning with the gospel passage of the calming of the storm (Mk 4,35-41). Questionnaires were distributed and filled in, and the meeting ended with Eucharistic Adoration and Confessions. To be able to hold a meeting like this in a war situation, and to have so many young participants, was nothing short of a miracle! We are planning other similar meetings and hope to be able to hold them as soon as possible.

(ANS – Kafroun) – The house in Kafroun is situated in a green mountainous area about 250 km south of Aleppo. It is intended as a centre for the summer activities of the communities of Aleppo and Damascus, and also as a Retreat House for confreres and groups of young people from the nearby dioceses of Tartous and Homs.
During the summer it becomes a youth centre and oratory for the nearby villages. Children and young people who live further away are brought to the centre and home again in vehicles provided by the Salesians. Activities begin at the end of the scholastic year in the elementary and junior high schools, and go on until the start of the new scholastic year. They are run by two or three confreres, assisted by some of our cooperators, catechist and animators.
When the war reached Aleppo last August, many families lost their homes. Others were forced to leave home and look for accommodation elsewhere. Thanks to Fr Georges Mouzaaber and Fr Charbel Daoura, and now also Fr Luciano Buratti, the Salesian House at Kafroun opened its doors to tens of families of relatives of Salesians, of cooperators and animators, offering them food and lodging. They live together in a family spirit, joining in the prayer of the Salesian community, helping in the maintenance of the house, and sharing in fraternal gatherings. Transport is provided to bring the young people to schools in the area and they attend regularly.
Every Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday, the house at Kafroun reverts to being a youth centre and oratory for the young people of the nearby villages and some that are not so near. Cooperators and Catechists run various educational, catechetical and spiritual activities, as they had been doing at Aleppo before the war. On Sundays they take part in the Mass.
Before Christmas, there was the possibility of confessions for the refugees and the young people, and a concert based on the Christmas liturgy. The Maronite Bishop of Tartous celebrated the Feast of Don Bosco with us, and gave a dinner for all the refugees of the surrounding areas, Christians and Muslims alike, who came from the areas worst hit by the war. The meal was accompanied by music and song in a festive  spirit of genuine fraternity.
Paradoxically, the disaster which this deplorable war brought upon the larger cities, has led to benefits in Kafroun that no one could have foreseen, such as the solidarity and mutual assistance between Christians and Muslims, which in turn brought about better knowledge of each other and a greater level of fraternity.

Published by ANS (Agenzia Notizie Salesiana, Roma) 24/04/2013

The war and the explosions have continued into 2013 with many victims, despite this situation we have tried to do something…