The tragedy and suffering of a beautiful Christian community

Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo: Public Domain
Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo: Public Domain

The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo in Syria, Jesuit Antoine Audo SJ, has warned that the city is at risk of total destruction, with only those unable to flee remaining. His warning follows an appeal to the world’s media by Carmelite nuns in Aleppo – via Aid to the Church in Need – for more accurate coverage of the situation in the West of the city.

“This bias in the news is very painful to us,” the Sisters wrote, “because of the things we witness each and every day, directly or indirectly, through the information we get from priests or from trustworthy people close by, of the plight of many of the neighbourhoods in the West of the city, where more and more people are being killed by grenades, by missiles, and by ever-more sophisticated weapons, or are succumbing to the total lack of water and electricity, which have been cut off by the enemy; the West too counts dozens of dead and injured daily.”

Bishop Audo, who is the head of Caritas Syria, confirmed the reliability of the Carmelites’ statement. “To us it’s important to let people know that in the Western part of Aleppo, where there are two million inhabitants, many Christians have left because of the bombs that are being dropped everywhere and every day, with no one saying a thing. For example, yesterday morning they bombed a school in the Christian quarter, killing four or five children, and injuring some 50 people. A school!”

Violence and poverty

It is estimated that the number of Christians in Aleppo has fallen to around 35,000, and Bishop Audo says even they may be forced to leave. “I think that if the war goes on no one will be left in Aleppo,” he told Vatican Radio. “This is my belief … Only those who cannot leave, the poor and the elderly, will remain here. Gradually, it will be the end of this beautiful Christian community of Aleppo. This is our tragedy, and this is our suffering. Let us do all we can. We say: ‘Peace! Peace! Peace’, but on the other hand there is no peace, only ‘War! War! War’ – until the destruction (of Aleppo)”.Sr Annie Demerjian with Manchester Universities' Chaplain, Fr Tim Byron SJ

Earlier this month, at an event organised by Aid to the Church in Need, Sister Annie Demerjian of Aleppo visited the Jesuit-led Catholic Chaplaincy at Manchester Universities where she talked about some of her experiences of living and working in areas where Christians are persecuted. She is one of many religious who are providing emergency help in areas worst-affected by violence and acute poverty. Sister Annie leads a team of volunteers who go house-to-house, providing food, shelter and medicine at great risk to their safety. “Aleppo has become the city of death,” she said in her talk, “(…) and of destruction and violence. The infrastructure of the city has been destroyed by attacks on residential areas, which have taken the lives of many people or left many in painful conditions due to the injuries they have received.

“The city suffers from severe shortages in food and medical resources,” Sr Annie continued, “and all social services necessary for the lives of the families and individuals, especially electricity and water shortages, which last for long periods, not to mention the exploitation by traders of electricity by private generators.”

At Farm Street Church in London, the Aid for Syria Project is raising funds to be divided between the Jesuit Refugee Service and Aid to the Church in Need for use in their respective work with refugees both in and from Syria. Their three-pronged campaign also involves awareness raising and prayer.