On Monday, February 6, 2023, at 4:17 a.m., a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck our country, Syria, and neighboring Turkey, followed by three more during the day. The city of Aleppo, very close to the epicenter, was hard-hit. This massive earthquake was a devastating catastrophe, adding to the misery and despair caused by eleven years of war.
The situation in Aleppo weeks after the earthquake was catastrophic, with chaos and desolation. The inhabitants had to flee their homes to take shelter in their cars and in the streets amidst pouring rain. The first thing we did to shelter the population was to open the churches and monastery gardens.
This nightmarish earthquake has added another thorn to the wounds of our agonizing population. Syria is living through a real tragedy. According to the latest UN reports, more than half the population is living in poverty, not to mention the sanctions and Caesar’s law.
The country is suffering from a shortage of products vital to daily life: no electricity, no heating oil, no petrol, and inflation due to the devaluation of the Syrian pound. It’s a real state of despair and anguish.
In this state of generalized crisis and thanks to the mobilization of young citizens and scouts, we managed to come to the aid of people in distress, providing them with blankets and meals from our coffers, which are already empty due to years of war and the difficulty, even the inability, of obtaining aid from compatriots abroad. Transfers are forbidden and the blockade is killing us slowly. Cold, famine and insecurity are our forebodings.
Today, months after this disaster, we are coming to terms with the scale of the catastrophe and realizing that we alone are unable to meet the financial needs to repair the damage. Most of the foundations of the houses have been hit and are in urgent need of restoration so that the inhabitants can return to their homes in complete safety.
We Christians in Syria, the cradle of Christianity, have been suffering for a decade now, with a generation of teenagers who have known nothing but fear and insecurity. We are the salt of this once-blessed land, and we hope to remain so. (Before 2011, we made up 12% of the Syrian population. Today, Christians account for less than 4%.)
The tragedy in numbers: People who died: 8,476 (in Syria alone, with another 50,783 dead in Turkey) Families affected 91.793 (414.304 individuals) Survivors rescued from the rubble: 1.553 Buildings that need to be demolished: 4.444 Buildings that need to be reinforced for safe return: 29.751 Buildings that are safe but require maintenance 30.113 11
Help us support the faithful who have stayed to protect the cradle of Christianity by helping us financially and psychologically. Help us to make our cries of distress heard by the deaf ears of the world’s leaders, so that their bruised hearts and blinded eyes may open and feel for a people who have suffered martyrdom and continue to do so.
Pray that we servants of the Church may have the strength to give comfort to our people so that they may rediscover faith and hope for better days.
I would like to close my humble testimony inviting you all to join me in imploring the Virgin Mary and Saint Anthony of Padua to keep our country at peace:
“O Saint Anthony, the kindest of saints, your love of God and His creatures has earned you miraculous powers on this earth. We implore you to intercede on our behalf. Whisper our request in the ears of the sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to snuggle in your arms. Protect our country and our people from natural and humanitarian disasters. O Saint Anthony, saint of miracles, whose heart was filled with human compassion, we pray to you. Answer our prayers, and we will be grateful to you forever.”
*The author is the National Director of The Pontifical Mission Societies Syria. Immediately following the earthquake that impacted [country], TPMS USA launched an online campaign through our crowdfund-ing platform, www.missio.org. Close to $900,000 was raised, making it the most successful project on the platform thus far. This was accomplished in great part thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Catholics in Los Angeles and the local Mission office, which raised $425,000. The funds raised are being allocated to help rebuild churches in both countries.