Last week members of the Catholic community in Cham were able to hear a first-hand account of the current situation in Syria thanks to priest Georges Aboud of Damascus, who had been invited to speak by the Church in Need charity.
The Syrian priest (on the left in the photograph) had actually been invited to speak in a number of Swiss communities, with vicar Thomas Rey (on the right) welcoming him here in Cham.
Aboud was actually born in 1968 in the Lebanon and as a 13-year-old was able to experience what it was like to have to flee one’s homeland following the massacre of Christians there in 1971. It was 19 years later that he became a priest; he now looks after some 15,000 members of the Melchite Greek Orthodox church in Damascus. With the war in Syria continuing for eight years now, Aboud has experienced the dire effects of it all, with countless people killed and injured, including children, as others have fled elsewhere.
The priest went on to describe the situation there today, with shortages of food, water and electricity commonplace, not to mention the lack of medicine and fuel. It is estimated 45 per cent of the Syrian population has fled elsewhere, as 13 million of them hold out in besieged areas. Many of them have lost their economic subsistence, yet many, too, do not want to leave their homeland.
The priest also mentioned it was Patriarch Gregory III, a former leader of the Melchite Greek Orthodox church, who had always pointed out the strong connection between Syria and Christianity, and always acknowledged any help from international bodies during the current troubles, not least that of the Church in Need charity.
Fortunately, the situation with regard to security is not as bad as it was, though so-called IS groups are still active, particularly in the Idlib region in the northwest of the country, even if they no longer hold territory as such. Aboud went on to explain that, in some areas, the Syrian government was in control, while other areas were controlled by the opposition to it. Much tension between the various regional and international powers involved remains, hampering any attempts at reconstruction.
This article, based on a report by Stefan Treier of the Church in Need charity, mentioned how it had actually made CHF 34 million available for humanitarian purposes since the outbreak of the war there. Indeed, 64 projects are currently under way, helping to improve the lives of children, young people and students, not to mention other projects helping to secure supplies of water and supporting schools and hospitals.
The Damascene priest mentioned that even now, many Syrians were thinking of leaving the county, as they see no future for themselves there, something he feels they should be dissuaded from. He hopes that, with support from outside, for which he is extremely grateful, the economy will be able to be revived to such an extent they will be able to see a future for themselves there and remain.