Back to Aleppo, H.E. Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart
My dear friends,
Back in Aleppo after the conclusion of our Synod and having completed my mission of Administrator of the Melkite Church undertaken at the request of the Holy Father following his acceptance of the retirement of Patriarch Gregorius III, I am eager to bring you news about our Archdiocese of Aleppo after an absence that kept me apart from my beloved faithful for two months.
I have to give thanks, first of all, for the warm reception of my co-workers who impatiently awaited my return, which was most comforting, as was the anticipation of my return by so many Christians in the city, who, it appeared, prayed hard that I would remain with them. I was very much touched by all this, and needless to say my attachment to my people has grown in me in a similar vein. It means my commitment to give myself entirely and enthusiastically in service to them has grown still stronger.
Thanks be to God, my vicar general has done a great job, with the help of our dedicated clergy, and our beloved laity has been well taken care of. The director of our diocesan offices and those in charge of various projects have stayed on top of things. Discovering upon my return how well things are going how remarkably well initiatives have developed, I give thanks to God. It made me think of the parable of the mustard seed, which, once planted, calmly proceeds to grow until it becomes, as the planter had intended, a tree where many birds can find shelter.
On that score, I have had the joy of seeing our Center of Professional Formation achieve steady growth, with enough life to it that there is constant beehive of activity. The number of students in formation in the various departments of this institution continues to grow, which fills us with hope that our young people can easily find work in the months ahead, not to mention the week or even days!
Our Medical Center has also grown considerably. It presently offers hundreds of patients free medical consultations in 12 specialty areas, including dental care which offers dozens of patients care each week at a negligible price. This small polyclinic is beginning to have a lot of success because of the quality of its services, its cleanliness and welcoming atmosphere; it’s winning over doctors and patients alike.
Our teams continue to provide various forms of humanitarian aid, continuing according to a regular schedule, so that the less fortunate are taken care of without having to ask about the provisions earmarked for them. Families, the elderly, school children, young families with newborns and the sick—all of them are cared for without fail and without delay.
Our ‘shopping center’—set up as a non-profit just a few months ago—is functioning very well! It has been able to adequately replace food baskets. Each family, provided with a purchase coupon that has a value equivalent to the previous baskets, can now buy products and supplies they really need and at a favorable price. And besides this new method of distribution of essential goods, the center has also given a dozen unemployed people a job.
Our schools have achieved excellent results on official exams and rank atop the list of educational institutions. At our Amal School, three students made to the top of the list of the best six students in all of Aleppo. We have reason to be proud of our educational establishments and to be assured that they are functioning at top levels. The numerous scholarships we have given out each year are turning out to be a great investment. We have stuck to that course to make sure that the war does not prevent us from improving the quality of our education we offer. To boost the knowledge of foreign languages, we have organized intensive courses during holidays. To-date, 124 of our students have signed up and attend morning classes in French and English with enthusiasm and dedication. Once a week, they are also given a course in civic education and proper manners—a course that’s given in French! The children love learning songs in foreign languages, getting ready for the celebration at the end of the sessions with their parents in attendance.
Presently, a number of summer camps are in progress, subsidized by the archdiocese. It gives our youth a chance to get out, to socialize and to breathe in some fresh mountain air, far from the tumultuous life in the city where they have been trapped for a long time. That’s why we are really working hard to repair and get back up and running our vacation center and camping grounds, situated close to the coast and in the middle of the mountains. The center can accommodate groups of young people with up to 150 participants.
“Build to Stay” continues its social and development efforts. More than 500 apartments in the city, damaged in the bombings, have already been restored; 98 of them are let out rent-free to help fathers who are heads of households to relaunch a small business or start a new one. In addition to supporting the professional training courses, this Movement has begun work on building a socio-cultural center to help women. It will open its door in the weeks ahead. 100 free of interests and charges long term loans, have been given to youngesters for small startups, and all of them are quite happy to begin their own small business! “Build to Stay,” which is having quite an impact, will substantially enlarge its operations once the war is over, and take part in the reconstruction of institutions that are most needed to make life less difficult and more pleasant for our dear faithful, who sadly have lost everything in this war.
Another glimmer of hope has come to us in the wake of the liberation of Aleppo from rebel forces. The city has regained a sense of security in the majority of the Christian neighborhoods. We have thus been able to begin work on repairing the least damaged of the ecclesiastical structures, an effort that has allowed us to offer employment to a hundred people, including engineers and construction workers. This has given the people around a new sense of confidence. Workers are seeing new opportunities for finding work and entrepreneurs see new opportunities for investments that stand a real chance of paying off.
Finally, in response to our appeal under the motto “Aleppo Awaits You” the office in charge has received a good number of requests of people to return to the city! You can imagine how this warms our hearts and gives us fresh hope. If this trend continues and gets stronger, we can hope that the bloodletting—the exodus of so many Christians—that has been threatening us can stop, so that we can help people live in their beloved country. We will continue to work hard on this as we receive the support of those who wish us well and want us to stay where we are, where we belong.
I will end this letter with two items of news I just received. The good news is that more than 500,000 Syrians have returned to their country from nearby countries; the bad news is terrible: there have been reports that the Sant’Egidio is planning to bring 500 Syrian refugees to the West. May God help us cope with this unwelcome effort and deal with still more suffering added to the sorrows of those faithful being led into exile.
Aleppo, July 1, 2017
Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart
Melkite Metropolitan of Aleppo, Syria