Königstein, Germany 16.04.2015
“The world must not forget Aleppo.” With these words Johannes Freiherr von Heereman, the Executive President of the Catholicho are caught up in the war in Syria.Situated in the north of the country, Aleppo is Syria’s second largest city and has been the scene of conflict between the government and predominantly jihadist rebels for the last two years. “Heavy fighting is currently taking place again. Many people are dying and thousands of inhabitants are fleeing the city, including many Christians,” explains Heereman, citing local sources.
Sister Annie has been holding out in the city for several years, and reported a few days ago to Aid to the Church in Need, “Fighting in Aleppo commenced at the weekend. Rebel rocket attacks killed 14 Christians on Saturday alone. Many were injured. Every day buses are taking Christian families away from the city, but there is not enough transport for all those who wish to leave. The people feel abandoned. Eight congregations are still persevering in Aleppo in an endeavour to help the people there. Before the fighting started, 70,000 Christians lived in the city, now there are only around 60,000.”
The Jesuit Refugee Service operating in Syria has likewise described the desperate conditions there as follows, “The situation in Aleppo has deteriorated significantly in the last 72 hours. There has been an increase in violence on both sides of the city, and preparations to organise churches and other key locations into shelters are underway in Aleppo.”
The Jesuit Father Ziad Hilalof Homs is helping refugees from Aleppo. On Thursday he told Aid to the Church in Need, “Hundreds of families, in particular Christian families, have fled to the coastal regions and the Valley of the Christians, including Homs. They have lost all of their possessions and are in need of everything: shelter, blankets, mattresses, clothing, and so on. Some of the sick among the refugees depend on medicines.” Father Ziad is expecting more arrivals if the violence in Aleppo continues. “Many families are being torn apart. I met a family. The father is still in Aleppo while the mother and her children were able to escape. The people are in a dreadful situation at the moment.”
Sister Annie remarks that the citizens of Aleppo have been suffering for many years, “In the last three years they have endured more than most people. They have lost everything. The city’s water and power supply systems have collapsed, but still they persist. They are a lesson for all of us.” She appeals to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need, “The days ahead are expected to be tough for our people. I hope that thanks to your prayers and support it will not be like this. I am deeply moved by your help. May God bless you. We are united in the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary.”
Heereman adds, “The reality is that Syria’s Christians are in danger of disappearing from our sight. And the Christians are not the only ones, of course, who are troubled. All of the city’s inhabitants are affected. Will we simply do nothing while people suffer and die? The situation in Syria has become steadily worse during the last four years. More than 220,000 people have lost their lives and 12 million – around half the country’s population – have fled.” He continues, “Aid to the Church in Need is therefore appealing to the international community to bring an end to the supply of arms to Syria and provide more emergency aid to the inhabitants of Aleppo. We are also urging people to pray for a cessation of the conflict in Syria and the whole of the Middle East.”
Aid to the Church in Need is very engaged in the Middle East. Since the end of 2011 it has contributed more than twelve million euros to helping the Christians of Syria and Iraq. Two months ago Aid to the Church in Need released more than two million euros for the humanitarian relief effort, a portion of which benefited the people of Aleppo.
“We shall continue to assist Syria’s beleaguered Christians through the local church,” insists Heereman.