once again, wildfires rage across Lattakia
From this distance it’s often hard to see where the Spirit of God is at work in Syria. The country seems to stagger from one crisis to the next. After a dozen years of war, fires, earthquake, and all the deprivation caused by sanctions coming from the US, the fires are back! They have hit Lattakia province again – such a beautiful part of Syria, and the same region that was at the centre of the earthquakes.
I remember friends in Syria telling me how, during last year’s fires, families were crowding into the only vehicle they could find that had fuel and trying desperately to attach an olive tree to the vehicle so that they would have some food as they fled!
The natural disasters have been terrible. The man-made disasters, caused most especially by US sanctions, seem to me more terrible still. I find some comfort in the report of I’ve pasted below of the good work being done by Don Bosco House in Aleppo, which is a reminder of what the church, and other international religious organisations, can still accomplish.
While sanctions still make it impossible for most of us to send money to Syria, the church can get money across the border to fund works like this. If there were ever a time for the Christian community worldwide to step up and make a difference for people in need, now is the time!
In the immediate aftermath, Salesians opened the doors to Don Bosco House, and hundreds of people found security, companionship and relief. Five months after the earthquake, Father Alejandro León, superior of the Salesian Adolescent Jesus Province of the Middle East, reflected on what he experienced and what the country continues to need, as well as extended his gratitude for all those who have provided support.
Fr. León said, “One sentence I heard made me think. I entered a formation meeting with a group of teenagers aged 15-16. I don’t know what topic they were discussing, but one girl said, ‘Here we were taught to see the glass half full, rather than half empty, but the problem is that our glass is not only empty, it’s really broken.’ The sentence may seem to be exaggerated, or an outburst after the experience of the earthquake. However, I do not share this, but there is something in it that makes me reflect and empathize with the existential situation of these young people.”
Fr. León noted everything these youth have been through in their young lives. “They are young people who have no recollection of life without war. They have lived for years without electricity, without water, with scarcity of food and fuel. They have lived in a besieged city and have feared attacks with chemical weapons or missiles. They all mourn a family member who died during the war and live in constant economic depression. They have experienced cholera epidemics and the COVID-19 epidemic. What now? A large earthquake and other earthquakes, at least four, that exceeded 6 on the Richter scale.”
It was 4:17 a.m. on Feb. 6 when the earth shook. Immediately, the courtyard of Don Boco House filled with people seeking safety. There was anxiety and uncertainty. Father Mario Murru, rector, assured them from the outset that the Salesian house would be open for all those who needed it. At lunchtime, there were already 50 people in the house, and by dinner, there were 300. This number grew steadily in the following days to reach 500 people. On Feb. 21 another strong earthquake renewed fear, and 800 people found shelter at Don Bosco House.
Youth in the region had been attending programs at Don Bosco House for years. They were involved in youth camps and were familiar with the Salesians. Through their own training, they were natural leaders in the emergency, helping their families and neighbors. Fr. Murru said, “It was moving to see the respect that the adults paid to young people. Not because they were designated authorities, but because of the moral authority acquired through their generous service.”
He added, “Love has made us overcome barriers that none of us could have imagined. For the love of children, for the love of parents, for the love of friends, for the love of God. At a time when there was no reason to hope for anything, they found people to fight for with hope and everyone, rich and poor, became needy and shared what they had.”
Almost 2.4 million euro was raised by Salesians around the globe for emergency projects in the aftermath of the earthquake. In June, most of those emergency projects concluded to make room for reconstruction, educational projects, and summer camps for children and older youth affected by the earthquake.