BY FAUSTO GASPARRONI
ROME—The Armenian Catholic Bishop of Aleppo told the Italian wire service ANSA on Friday that the Christian community in Syria feels “forgotten, neglected and betrayed by the West.” Monsignor Boutros Marayati added, in response to a question about the international community’s reaction to the conflict that has been ongoing for almost four years, that “no one thinks about us. For example, you hear about Kobane, while Christians — most of whom live in Aleppo — are forgotten.”
“The situation in Aleppo is tragic,” he said on the fringes of a bishops prayer for peace he presided over on Friday in the Santa Maria in Trastevere Church, promoted by the Comunità di Sant’Egidio. “There is a lack of water, electricity, light, heating, and fuel. The doctors have left and there is no medicine. But we are living there, surviving. We feel a bit abandoned, forgotten, by the West and the entire world.”
Marayati went on to say that churchgoers “often come and ask us whether they should stay or go. And you can’t say anything given the tragedy before us, since there is above all a lack of security. Rockets and bombs come from the jihadists’ area, and two weeks ago our cathedral was also hit by a rocket that destroyed the cupola and the entire roof.”
“The people are now thinking about leaving,” he said.
“Already two thirds of the Christian population, the Armenians, have left. Only a small third of them have stayed — those that still believe in peace want to stay. Especially when the appeal to save Aleppo was launched, or at least to freeze the situation and bring in a ceasefire, some believed and still do.
“They are, however, becoming more pessimistic, because the situation has not changed. It has instead become worse,” Marayati said.
Marayati underscored that “there is hope. There have been many appeals, and even the Comunità di Sant’Egidio made an appeal to save Aleppo. However, nothing has changed on the ground, in reality. To the contrary: it has become worse.”
“At this point,” he continued, “we only open our churches to help people. Aid comes and everyone has become poor and in need of help. Those who used to help the church now need help themselves. People are fed up. Is there such thing as human dignity? How can you always line up for a drop of water, to wait for petrol, wait for food. The wealthy have left and the middle class has become poor.”
The bishop said that, nevertheless, “despite everything, we have opened the schools and churchgoers come to church. Many of the churches have been destroyed, but those that are still functioning are filled with believers praying that this type of evil — as the Gospels say — will go away simply by praying and fasting. We call for peace through appeals for prayer and fasting. As one bishop said, ‘these are things we ask the Lord with tears.’ This is what we do now in our communities.”
On the subject of relations with other communities, including non-Christian ones, the Armenian Catholic bishop stressed that “what was beautiful about Aleppo was that everything was done in an ecumenical fashion” he said.
“Either we’re together or we aren’t. And so, everything that is done is done between the Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants, and with moderate Muslims. Everything that happens now — at least as concerns the part that is still there — is cooperation, collaboration, ecumenical and interfaith solidarity.”