Syrian bishop seeks support for Christians in war-torn Aleppo

An injured boy stands amid rubble outside his home in 2014 after airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria.

CNS PHOTO | ALI MUSTAFA, EPA

An injured boy stands amid rubble outside his home in 2014 after airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria.

May 30, 2016
MARY CHALUPSKY
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

NEW HAVEN, CONN. - The Melkite Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, has thanked the Knights of Columbus and other organizations for speaking out about the genocide of Syrian Christians and other religious minorities.

Speaking May 2 with a heavy but hopeful heart at a news conference at the Knights' headquarters, Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart also asked for support for his war-torn city.

Jeanbart recounted five years of destruction by the Islamic State group and anti-government rebels that has resulted in thousands of deaths, continued attacks on Christians and the destruction of homes, hospitals, businesses and churches in the ancient city.

"When I see what we have lost, you can be sure that I cry in my heart," he said.

Despite the atrocities of the civil war that has caused thousands of Christians to flee, Jeanbart said signs of hope were raised during Holy Week.

An estimated 3,000 people attended the Palm Sunday liturgy.

"We were afraid that we were down to 25 per cent" of Christians previously living in Aleppo, Jeanbart said.

But to people's surprise, he noted, the crowds that came for the Palm Sunday and Easter liturgies indicated that about half of the previously estimated 170,000 Christians in Aleppo still remain or have returned.

The archbishop was in New Haven during a visit to North America to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian Christians, raise funds for the relief effort and to thank the Knights for its support. He also made stops in Montreal, Boston, Washington and the United Nations.

Jeanbart described the rich culture, tradition and economy that Aleppo enjoyed before the devastating civil war began in 2011.

With an 8,000-year history, Aleppo is both the largest city in Syria and home to one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East.

While the focus of international aid is on refugees, Jeanbart said fewer programs are available for residents who remain in war-torn communities.

To further support Christians and people of other minority religions in Iraq and Syria, the Knights has raised $10.5 million for its Christian Refugee Relief Fund since 2014 to provide housing, food, medical aid and other assistance.

"This is not a struggle between Christianity and Islam," said Knights' CEO Carl Anderson. "It is a struggle between humanity and the enemies of humanity. So we can't make this a sectarian issue."