“Aleppo: at what point is the night?”: fr. Matteo Brena and the journalist Francesco Pistocchini were in Syria from 26 June to 2 July. The many eye-witness accounts they collected over those few days form a reportage of 16 pages by Pistocchini, which is published in the July-August 2023 issue of the magazine Terrasanta.
“Twelve years after the start of the war and five months after the two violent earthquake tremors of 6 February, we visited the Franciscan communities in the main Syrian cities. From Damascus to Aleppo and Latakia, we wanted to document the situations of suffering, collect eye-witness accounts and share experiences and reflections.” In Syria, Francesco Pistocchini and fr. Matteo Brena met the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, engaged in the parishes, in pastoral work and in help. “At the heart of the work there is the religious life of the communities of faithful, who have always been present in the country but are strongly tempted to emigrate.”
The dossier on Syria gives a voice to fr. Firas Lutfi and the community of Bab-Touma in Damascus, to fr. Bahjat Karakash, who leads the Latin parish in Aleppo, and to fr. Fadi Azar who serves the Catholics (and others) in Latakia. While Pistocchini and Brena were in Syria, the nomination of fr. Hanna Jallouf as apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latiins arrived and a page is dedicated to him. Space is also given to the recreational activities such as the summer centre and drama activities, which are also ways to try to heal the wounds of the soul. There is also room for the stories of many young people who, in the commitment to service, find a meaning for their lives and a hope to stay in Syria. “Why?” is the question that we heard repeated amongst frustrated people. The youngsters in the Franciscan parish share this thought but do not resign themselves: ‘In the parish I feel at home,” they say, “and home is not defined by the place, but by the people.’” As fr. Bahjat suggests, “I hear some families say: ‘We are here because you are here.’ This is our task. We are here to give the message that there is someone to support them.”