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Priest in Damascus: Celebrating Christmas to Overcome the Wounds of the War
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Damascus -- Syrian Christians hope for "a Christmas of forgiveness and reconciliation", embracing "the whole country, non-Christians included". Without a new culture, one that doesn't forget the wounds but goes beyond them, it will not be possible to build "a future of coexistence," said Fr Amer Kassar, of the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Damascus.

Speaking, to AsiaNews, the 40-year-old Syro-Catholic diocesan priest described the beautiful atmosphere in the capital as preparations get underway to welcome the birth of Jesus, like "before the war".

In homes, streets and churches "we are getting ready for Christmas" in a context that is, "on balance, quiet". In Damascus, people hope "to spend this period in peace and serenity".

Parishes are crowded and lots of people are taking part in the celebrations. "Many people are in the streets. We are preparing ourselves with prayer and works, decorating streets and homes."

The economy is not stable, the priest noted, and things are hard. Families cannot afford many gifts, least of all expensive ones, but just being able to experience Advent and attend services quietly "is worth a lot. We can enjoy ordinary things, eating and dressing up; luckily these are not in shortage supply."

What is needed "is a step towards reconciliation, like between the countries and peoples involved in the Second World War, even if for Syria and Syrians it won't be easy."

For the first time in eight years the streets of the capital are decorated and alight for the festivity. Memories of the shelling from the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta, east of the capital, are still strong, but so is the desire to move forward.

Musical bands are preparing to fill the air with harmony and sound, something that has not happened for some time. The proclamations of the so-called great leaders of the earth are a distant echo, like US President Donald Trump's latest announcement that the Islamic State had been defeated. The impact of his words remains an open question but the White House no longer seems interested in removing Bashar al-Assad.

"Celebrating Christmas after eight years of war without fear is a great achievement," Fr Amer said. "For a long time, the faithful had had to give up celebrating because of the fear of rockets and mortars."

In recent days, "municipal authorities did something beautiful, decorating the streets of predominantly Christian neighbourhoods, installing a Christmas tree. The show has piqued the interest of Muslim residents, who come to see, take pictures and enjoy the atmosphere of peace, serenity and tranquility."

The war has not been forgotten, the memory of the victims is still alive, and many wounds remain open "with martyrs aplenty, of all confessions". For the clergyman, our commitment as Christians is "to work in a perspective of reconciliation, which is one of the foundations of our faith."

One example is "the project by young people to help the poor and needy in eastern Ghouta, most of whom are Muslim."

Lastly, "My hope for this holiday," said Fr Amer, "is that the whole world can enjoy peace, because we who have endured war know how important and precious it can be. We also hope that many people, from the West, can come back to visit Syria."



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