Despite being surrounded by war, persecution and destruction, the archbishop of war-torn Aleppo in Syria says that he’s still able to find happiness.
“Working for the Lord fills my life with meaning and gives me a solid reason for being,” wrote Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart in a Pentecost message.
His reflection is titled “I am Happy,” seemingly a contradiction, as he begins by listing the many reasons why he cannot feel this way: “Frankly, there is no reason to be happy with everything that has happened to us for almost ten years. It is quite obvious that I cannot be happy thinking of the hundreds of thousands of victims who have disappeared because of this senseless and savage war that ravaged our poor country.”
Jeanbart said he cannot be happy seeing the endless destruction of houses and infrastructure, just like he cannot feel joy seeing the harm done to his people by depriving them of schools, hospitals, most of their heritage, their daily livelihood, their factories and workshops.
Nor can he be happy seeing the wound left by the “disappearance of dozens of abducted or murdered faithful, including two of my fellow bishops and several priests,” whom he still remembers, much as it “leaves my heart in pain.”
He’s referring to the April 22, 2013 kidnapping of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, whose fate remains shrouded in mystery, much like the disappearance of Italian missionary Father Paolo Dall’Oglio.
“The sight of our destroyed churches in addition to the structures of our deteriorated and demolished social and cultural institutions obviously makes me suffer a lot,” Jeanbart writes. “I am particularly saddened by the thought of all the sacrifice, effort and hard work put into constructing each of these vital and precious institution.”
Being happy over this would be like saying he’s joyful at the sight of “the labor of a lifetime suddenly collapsing before my eyes.”
Jeanbart’s reflection come as the multi-sided civil war in Syria marks its ninth year. The war involves both domestic and foreign forces and helped give birth to the self-proclaimed as Islamic State, which perpetrated a genocide against Christians and other minorities both in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
As the archbishop noted in his message, Pentecost represents “the confirmation of the Apostles and the baptism of the first Christians of Syria,” reason why, despite the many reasons against it, he “cannot help going out,” and “loudly and shamelessly” proclaim “I am happy!”
“Happy first of all, because during this despicable war, I found in my everyday life the Lord,” Jeanbart wrote, noting that never before in his life had he felt as confident in and close to God as he has during this time.
He also feels happy because amidst so much suffering, he’s been able to discover in each of his faithful the “charity which challenges” – that he’d often spoken about in many homilies and meditations, but that “day after day,” has become a concrete reality for him – “a fertile and moving reality, lived with joy.”
The archbishop said he is also happy because he’s recently been able to reassure the faithful about their future, in part thanks to the “continuous help of friends and benefactors.