Bombs hit Jesuit house in Aleppo
Photos have emerged of the damage sustained by the Jesuit house in Aleppo at the weekend when three bombs hit their building. The community managed to avoid injury because they were on retreat; but the chapel and various offices were seriously damaged in the attack on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis yesterday sent a letter to the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, appealing for "an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities" in the country. The appeal was delivered through newly appointed Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, as “a particular sign of (the Pope’s) affection for the beloved Syrian people, so sorely tried in recent years”, according to the Holy See’s Press Office.
Writing from Aleppo, Fr Andrzej Halemba SJ (below), who recently visited Britain to talk about the situation in Syria, said that the three bombs hit the Jesuit community’s buildings at around 6pm on Sunday. Fr Halemba is Aid to the Church in Need's Project Co-ordinator for the Middle East and has spent years traveling around the Middle East and North Africa for ACN. While in Britain, he shared his recent experiences and his thoughts about the future for the most ancient Christian communities in the world today.
“Fr Ziad and the group started the three-day retreat and they were in another chapel,” wrote Fr Halemba on Sunday. “Thanks be to God nobody was hurt. Usually on Sunday there is a Mass in the chapel which is badly damaged now, today nobody was there. All window glasses were smashed so they will have a very cold night and the coming days.”
Another Jesuit priest, who asked not to be named,confirmed that the community had had a lucky escape. "Every Saturday the people come to the residence for half an hour of meditation, followed by Holy Mass at 6pm," he explained. "Suddenly there was a violent explosion, followed by a second. I threw myself on the ground and a third explosion followed. After a few moments of calm, I emerged from my office to see devastation everywhere. Then there was a fourth explosion and I threw myself on the ground again on the debris of the broken glass. Four grenades did their damage."
Our choice to live with death
Fr Ziad Hilal SJ – who recently passed through London after his tertianship in Dublin and spoke at Farm Street Church – is a member of the team which has remained in Aleppo, despite an upsurge of intense fighting that has killed scores, displaced thousands and cut water and power to up to two million people on both sides of the front line. Fr Dominic Robinson SJ of Farm Street Church said they are praying for "our friend", Fr Ziad Hilal and all in Aleppo at this time. "Our Shrine for the Middle East is always busy with people coming to say a prayer and light a candle for our brothers and sisters trapped in the midst of this tragedy as so many here are shocked at how innocent blood is being spilt and aid is being blocked while arguments rage about who is to blame," he wrote on Facebook.
The un-named Jesuit in Aleppo also reflected on their commitment to the people left behind in the city. "Sometimes, in the face of disaster, people think that God should not have allowed it to happen," he said after last Saturday's attack. "But we, who live with death—by choice, for we could avoid it by moving out of the city—can see that God is always there; His providence alleviates the evil to the extent that man's free will 'permits' it."
In his letter to President Bashar al-Assad, Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities. He also urged the Syrian leader “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid".