Pope Francis testimony gave new strength to the people of Syria

Aleppo, Syria - Mar 25, 2013 - The new pope's testimony gave new strength to the people of Syria, beleaguered by more than two years of war. Mgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite archbishop of Aleppo, told AsiaNews that "Francis helps us with his speeches, showing us the way to cope with the tragedy we are going through. He reminds us that we live for Christ and that we must do everything possible to stay close to Jesus, who is the only one who can save us. In Aleppo, but also elsewhere in Syria, bishops, priests, religious and faithful have carved this message in their hearts. Everyone is trying to translate it into action and spread it across their dioceses, parishes and families."

The decision of faith is so strong that more than 2,000 Syrians havebraved bombs and the danger of attacks to take part in yesterday's Palm Sunday Mass in Aleppo's Greek Melkite Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

"It was a moving service," the prelate said. "The church was overflowing with people from different parts of the diocese, this despite the atmosphere of war and violence that struck our city."

Archbishop Jeanbart said that he based his Palm Sunday sermon on the pope's words. "I reminded the faithful that Christ is with us in this tragedy and that he would not let us down, that peace would come."

For the prelate, violence, war and Islamic radicalism have not stopped people from hoping and changing their hearts.

"In Syria," he said, "Muslims cannot convert to Christianity. If they did, they would put their lives at risk. Nevertheless, a few days ago, a man told me that he wanted to become Christian and would like to be baptised. This is an exception in our community, but it is a strong sign of the power of Jesus and the Christian message. "

With a population of 300,000, Aleppo's Christian community is the third largest in the Arab world after Beirut and Cairo.

Under siege for almost eight months, the city has seen its central districts and suburbs divided between Islamic rebels and the Syrian army with houses and buildings used in the fighting.

The Syrian air force has completely destroyed Aleppo's old city, a UNESCO heritage site, forcing thousands of residents to flee.

Recently, in Khan al-Assal, a few kilometres from the city, chemical weapons were used on civilians. (S.C.)


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