(Vatican Radio) For five years the Syrian city of Aleppo has been a key battleground in the country’s brutal civil war. This former financial hub was home to 250 thousand Christians with hopes and dreams. Now it has become a place of loss and suffering. With a fragile ceasefire in place, aid agencies are keeping up their work to help those who have lost everything as a result of the conflict.
Head of Press and Information for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) UK is John Pontifex, who recently returned from a visit to the city. He was able to see at first hand the devastation wrought and the lives torn apart there. But as he told Lydia O’Kane, what he also witnessed were stories of courage, determination and faith.
Listen to Lydia O’Kane’s interview with Head of Press and Information for Aid to the Church in Need UK, John Pontifex
Faith and Courage
“We were deeply deeply impressed by examples of courage”, he said, adding that it was those “stories of courage and determination and faith that really resonated with us and made us feel that the work of God is to be found in Aleppo…”
The visit also gave John Pontifex the opportunity to see for himself the toll the civil war has taken on the residents of the city. “Many of the people we spoke to made it very clear that they were frightened, traumatized and sick. When we spoke to those providing medical help, stress related illnesses, heart trouble, respiratory trouble… were too many to enumerate and we had the sense that the personal toll that this crisis has inflicted on people is only now beginning to become apparent”, he said.
Most people in Aleppo do not have jobs or an income and are almost entirely dependent on outside help, but the ACN spokesperson said that despite the devastation, he was impressed by the emergency relief programme that had been rolled out with aid distribution points in different parts of the city, soup kitchens, and necessary provisions.
Over the last few years the Christian community has dwindled due to the conflict that has engulfed the country. Asked if he thought those still in the city want to stay, Mr Pontifex said that the people they spoke to told them that, “we are going just to wait and see how things develop. Many of them though spoke of their great desire to stay…”
With a ceasefire continuing there is still a long road to travel in order to rebuild Aleppo’s once thriving industrial and financial centre. But Aid to the Church in Need says it is there for the long haul helping people to rebuild their homes, their lives and to give them a brighter future.