2015-05-08 12:24:00

Caritas in devastated Aleppo: pray for peace in Syria

(Vatican Radio)  Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has been on the front lines of the conflict there in recent weeks.  Amnesty International this week slammed government and opposition forces for indiscriminate bombings targeting civilians, hospitals and schools.

Tracey McClure spoke to Mariana Al-Issa, project coordinator for the Catholic aid agency, Caritas Aleppo, who says the situation is dramatic, with shelling going on daily.  

Listen to Tracey McClure's interview with Caritas' Mariana Al-Issa: 

Mariana says recently, she was forced to leave her home near the old center of the city where many historic churches and monuments are located, because of heavy shelling in the area. 

"The earth shook under our feet...many, many shells were falling""

An explosion rocked her building as she was home with her 8 month old baby, and children of 4 and two and half years  “The earth shook under our feet and my children screamed and were scared and cried so we went downstairs and we [didn’t] know how to escape because [there were] many, many shells falling.  We were scared; we don’t know how we escaped.” 

Now, she says she has joined the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. In some districts of Aleppo, heavy shelling has demolished hundreds of homes and killed entire families.  “There is no word to describe the situation, no words.”

Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo now centre of jobless, displaced

Just five years ago, she explains, Aleppo was the cultural, economic, commercial and industrial capital of SyriaIt had the biggest concentration of factories – but now, she says, Aleppo is “in pain and crying for her children” who are dying every day.

The crippled city is suffering from constant electricity cuts and water shortages.  Residents try to get electricity, Mariana explains, by buying cables and hooking them up to generators owned by private entrepreneurs who charge three dollars per ampere per week, leaving the city’s poorest with little to no access. 

80 percent of the population is unemployed and the prices of everyday necessities like food, housing and medication are high. According to Caritas, many people suffering from health problems have stopped taking their  medicines in order to buy food instead.

No one has time to think about the future, Mariana says: they are occupied all day long with trying to figure out where to find safety, how to wash their clothes and how to feed and clothe their families.

Caritas Aleppo staff displaced, mourns colleague killed in shelling

Caritas Aleppo itself has not gone unscathed.   Safouh Al-Mosleh, one of Mariana’s colleagues, was killed in April when a shell fell on his home and like Mariana, many others have been displaced because of the bombings.  The Caritas headquarters was also hit at one point.

Hundreds of people have lost their houses, Mariana notes, and are vulnerable.  Caritas is trying to help, providing shelter, rent assistance and food, mattresses, blankets, school equipment, clothes and kitchen utensils.

The most innocent victims of war

Mariana is surrounded by her children as we speak by phone, and they are noisily vying for her attention.  Asked what she tells her kids about the war, Mariana says they do not understand why the conflict rages in their city but “when they hear the high [screeching] sounds [of missiles] they escape and come to me and say ‘bomb, bomb, bomb! We are afraid!’ and their faces [get] paler and paler.” 

The power of prayer

Has Pope Francis’ term, the “globalization of indifference” meant that the world has forgotten Syria or doesn't care?  Mariana says she hopes people will care about Syria, “to try to bring peace for us.”  She admits people in Aleppo “are not optimists,” having lost faith in the resolve of stakeholders and the international community to end the conflict.   Nonetheless, she believes in the power of prayer and calls on people around the world to pray for a peaceful end to the war:  “we are depending here just on God.  We hope to get peace from God – just from God, not from human beings.”

In Syria, Caritas is operating in six regions: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, the coastal region, Djézireh and Horan. The main aim of the mission is to offer food aid and rental assistance, as the war has deprived most Syrians of all sources of income. Another vital aspect of the Caritas mission is provision of medical support and distribution of non-food aid, such as blankets, clothing and other items as required.

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