I have traveled here to see you with 21 of my companions representing the Salesian people across the Middle East, including Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Also with us is Father Simon, the leader of the Salesian community. We thank God for being with you all here.
It may be hard for many of you to know and understand the full breadth of what is happening in my beloved country, Syria. It will be very hard for me to impart a life of pain to you in a few sentences. The pain that is in our hearts is too big to express in words, but I will try to share a few aspects of our reality with you, our fellow believers.
Every day we live lives that are surrounded by death. But like you, we close our doors behind us as each morning as we leave for work or school. It is in that moment that we are gripped by fear that we will not return to find our homes and our families as we left them. Perhaps we will be killed that day. Or perhaps our families will. It is a hard and painful feeling to know that you are surrounded by death and killing, and there is no way to escape; no one to help.
God, where are you? Why have you forsaken us? Do you even exist? Why won’t you have mercy on us? Are you not the God of love? We spend a few minutes each day asking these questions. I don’t have an answer.
Is it possible that this is the end, and that we were born to die in pain? Or are we born to live, and to live life to the fullest? My experience in this war has been a harsh and difficult one. But it has caused me to mature and grow up before my time, and to see things in a different perspective.
I serve at the Don Bosco Center in Aleppo. Our center receives more than 700 young men and women who come hoping to see a smile and hear a word of encouragement. They are also seeking something that is otherwise lacking in their lives: genuine humanitarian treatment. But it is very difficult for me to give joy and faith to others while I myself am bankrupt of these things in my life.
We have lost many people at our center in this war. Jack, a 13 year-old boy died while waiting for a bus to bring him to attend a Christian lesson and to play with his friends. Unfortunately, the bitterness of war and the hate in men’s hearts killed this boy. Anwar and Michelle left us one evening, and we were expecting to see them the very next day back at the center. But unfortunately their sleep that night became eternal as their home was destroyed and collapsed on top of them, and they joined the angels in heaven. Others who died include my friends Nour, Antoine, William, and many other young men and women who could only be faulted for daring to have faith in humanity. They are all martyrs in this bloody war of no reason that has destroyed our souls, dreams, and hopes. The destruction of human life is an infinitely greater loss compared to the demolition of bricks and stones.
In spite of all of this pain, my life and the life of my friends at church have continued to be lives of service and joyful giving to the children and youth of our city. We follow the footsteps of Don Bosco, who increased his joy two fold in response to increasing pain. We see the presence of God in a child who helps to fetch water. We see God in those who work to rescue others in danger. We see God in parents who do not give up until they are able to bring food to their children.
Through my meager life experience, I have learned that my faith in Christ supersedes the circumstances of life. This truth is not conditioned on living a life of peace that is free of hardship. More and more, I believe that God exists despite all of our pain. I believe that sometimes through our pain, He teaches us the true meaning of love. My faith in Christ is the reason for my joy and hope. No one will ever be able to steal this true joy from me. In the end, I ask the Resurrected Lord to grant me, everyone living in Syria, and people around the world the grace to show a touch of mercy and plant joy in the hearts of every wounded, sad, and abandoned person. This is the message for every Christian on the face of the earth.
I thank you all and I earnestly ask you to pray for my beloved country, Syria.