Rector Major Brings a Smile to Syria, Finds Much Hope

12 Apr 2018

As part of his animation visit to the Middle East Province, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime went to the Salesian presences in Syria, where the Salesians continue to be sowers of comfort and makers of peace.

(ANS – Damascus & Aleppo – April 10) – While Syria’s country’s civil war continued east of Damascus, the Rector Major, accompanied by his secretary, was in the Syrian capital, committed to bringing, as Don Bosco’s successor, comfort, joy, and hope to a population wounded by over seven years of war.

Fr. Fernandez arrived in Damascus on Thursday, April 5. In the early afternoon, accompanied by several young people, he made a pilgrimage on the route of the Apostle Paul and came to the church of St. Ananias. There the story of St. Paul’s conversion was recited, after which the Rector Major offered a few words of commentary, emphasizing how important it was for everyone today to change their lives by directing them toward God.

The Rector Major’s day concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist at the church of St. Paul in the Tabbala section of Damascus, and with words of encouragement to the many who approached him.

The next day (Friday), Fr. Fernandez first gathered with the Salesians of the local community to listen to their problems and challenges and offer his accompaniment. In the afternoon, he participated in a festive meeting with all the children, teens, and young adults of the youth center – a total of about 1,000 people. “He was asked to pose for pictures and took selfies with all those who asked him!” said an amazed Sally A-Jamra, the province’s communications delegate.

The afternoon continued with traditional performances by the young people of the youth center, to which Fr. Fernandez responded by playing the guitar, much to the joy and satisfaction of everyone present. The Rector Major then presided over Mass in the courtyard of the house and let loose a dove, a sign of hope for peace for the city and the country. Finally, quoting Don Bosco, he told the young people that they had stolen his heart.

During the evening that he spent with the center’s Educational-Pastoral Community, he answered questions and voiced his happiness at having found a second Valdocco in Damascus.

From Damascus, the Rector Major moved on to Aleppo, passing through the main cities of Syria, places marked by the suffering of war, but also by the hope of those who, like the Salesians and the youths of their houses, have decided to continue to believe in a future of peace and prosperity.

After arriving in Aleppo on Saturday afternoon, April 7, Don Bosco’s tenth successor visited the city on Sunday and recorded a video-message.

Today is Sunday, April 8, 2018. Here in Aleppo we find ourselves in the same place whence our confreres sent us their Christmas greeting. I am very happy to be here with all these young people, the Salesian Family, our sisters of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, our brothers, all as one family and Salesian Youth Movement, here to say a word to our whole Salesian world, to the Salesian Family in the world, to our confreres and sisters, and to all the young people who can listen to us.

I am happy to tell you that we have come to pray for peace, to pray for a meeting between peoples, cultures, and religions and also to ask the Lord that with our human freedom this war and destruction are never repeated.

I must tell you that we are struck by so much destruction, so much pain, so many deaths, for 102,000 people who have been injured by bombs and more than three, four, five million Syrians who have left Syria. This is really painful.

But I want to tell you something else that you can see and feel: there is so much hope!

First, because in faith, even more so during this Easter season, one truly feels that life continues, and that life, fraternity, and help are possible, that the Lord supports everyone, all believers of any creed in the one and only God. We see that life returns, that there is a real desire to rebuild fraternity, to live side by side, to continue serving one’s own people, those who follow, those who were born in these years.

Dear Salesian Family, dear young people, let me ask, above all, for understanding, a look of tenderness for these confreres, sisters, and friends, for a prayer with faith to the Lord, so that they do not lack for strength. And I continue to appeal again to fraternity and solidarity, to help those who have lost everything, with a big embrace and a strong feeling of friendship toward our Salesian reality, which is very beautiful and Christian, and also simply an embrace of the citizens of Aleppo and Syria.

To all of you a big hug, and a greeting from everyone.

Bye-bye, and Shukran Shukran.

In the afternoon, after having met several Syrian prelates for lunch, the Rector Major celebrated Mass, wherein 13 Salesian Cooperators made their promises. A meeting followed with high school and university students and then with some Salesian Cooperators, including some from Damascus and Kafroun, who spoke to the Rector Major about the ongoing war.

“Father Angel has truly moved us in these last few moments! He has truly been a father and brother for everyone. He listened to us, told us that he shall continue to pray for us and that he will speak about the Salesians and young people in Syria to the entire world,” concluded Sally A-Jamra.

Photos of the visit:

Read more about the Salesian presence in Aleppo: