Fr Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit priest who has been helping the victims of the war in Syria already for a very long time, before in Homs and now in Aleppo, recently spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
What was the situation like in Aleppo?
“It is a sad situation for everybody because of the fighting. I couldn’t sleep well there because all the night we heard the bombardment and the fighting between the groups.”
“When I was there, there was electricity for maybe one hour, two hours, a day – but not every day either. Then it is a dark city, if you want, without electricity but the people use the generators, but not all the time they give them electricity for a few hours. But from midnight until morning it is black – a dark city – nothing happens.”
“Without electricity we couldn’t have warmth and a lot of people couldn’t go to their job also – and the city it’s divided between two sides. Between the opposition and the government, then people couldn’t move from one side to the other side. And you can imagine every family can be divided between the two sides of the cities. And a lot of people couldn’t go from here to there, from there to here, to get to their jobs – and so they lost their jobs, they lost their houses.”
Are there any signs of hope?
“On one side things are dark, things are sad, on the other hand we see the activities of the Church there and how the people, especially the Christian associations. These provide a sign of hope.”
“We have many services there with Aid to the Church in Need, with JRS, and the bishops to help the Christians to stay in their land – and also to help the Muslim people.”
How is the Church helping people in their plight?
“We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN and other associations, and a lot of people who come – we give about 7,500 meals every day. It is a lot, and the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims.”
He added that at the Missionaries of Mary, where the kitchen is based, helping women – including Muslim women to sew handbags and other items to sell to make a living.
“The problem is Syria is not between Christians and Muslims – but I give you an example how our church works for reconciliation.”
Can you give us an example of how families are suffering?
“There are any poor families without work. I met a Catholic family where three children are working in a restaurant, one is 7 or 8 years old, the other one is 10 years old and the third one, he is 14 years old. Their father has died, we don’t know how, and their mother is also working. And the boss of the restaurant told me – you see these three children are working and I couldn’t tell them no it is summer now because they are helping their mother. I was choked.”
What is the situation like in Aleppo now the rebels have driven further forwards in to the city?
“I don’t know what I can say? It is chaos now – and not only in Aleppo but throughout Syria, it is fighting everywhere but we speak a lot about Aleppo but we forget the other city’s also. It is the same situation, our country is divided now. I think the only way ids dialogue between Syrian and Syrian because the issues of the day, because with weapons we couldn’t find a resolution. We have to stop the weapons and work for peace. This is the most important thing for us as Syrians.”
Do you think there will be peace?
“It is important now to say what Pope Francis said a few days ago – ‘I encourage everyone – young and old people – to live with enthusiasm in this year of mercy, to overcome indifference, and firstly proclaim peace in Syria is possible. Peace in Syria is possible.’ This is our cry today that peace in Syria is possible, this is the only hope for us.”
What is your prayer for Syria?
“My prayer today is to ask God to give us peace and consolation. What the people in Syria and especially in Aleppo need is security and mercy to continue their lives, because it is a hard situation. God makes us understand that the only way is reconciliation between each other, as Syrian to Syrian, to stop the war and start a new life in peace”