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Kathryn Jean Lopez / August 20, 2017

Good News From the Middle East

“Aleppo awaits you” may not be the expected message for anyone tired of politics in the United States.

“Aleppo awaits you” may not be the expected message for anyone tired of politics in the United States. The person saying this, Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, doesn’t even want to talk to you about the terrible things happening in the world if you aren’t interested. “You have heard enough about the suffering in the world and the killing and the savagery … I do not talk about it,” he says early on during an interview.

Just being the archbishop of Aleppo serves as enough of a reminder, as far as he is concerned. Jeanbart recently spoke in St. Louis, where the Knights of Columbus hosted him at their annual convention.

Part of the point of raising awareness about the Islamic State genocide over the past few years is simply telling the truth and getting international attention on this truth, to do anything and everything there might be to help the people often missed by international agencies — but it’s also to insist that there be a future for a people who have been present in the Middle East since biblical times. Pentecost, in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, happened here, Jeanbart is often explaining to Westerners, who often have no idea.

The news Jeanbart came here to tell is “the most important … that the larger cities are now freed.” His is a message of hope, which is even more remarkable in these troubled times.

“I must say that what is going on in Syria now gives us hope that in a few months things will be much better. I hope so.”

The Syrian government, he explains, “has been liberating the cities, and as long as … ISIS and the opposition is in the countryside or in the desert or places where there are not many inhabitants, I think it will be much easier to finish them.” He implores governments around the world to stop financing ISIS, to stop helping them, to stop sending mercenaries and weapons. “If (such support) stops, I think that very soon we’ll have peace.”

Jeanbart also explains why he’s been supportive of the government in Syria. “We felt that if the government collapsed, if Syria disintegrated, we would not have any more possibility to live there.” Christians in Syria know all too well the possibilities of being “second-class citizens” in their own country. They don’t fear Muslims, he explains, but a fundamentalist Muslim government where Christians and other religious minorities may not have the same basic human rights as others under a constitution. “Each single human being has the right to be himself, to choose his religion, to have his belief. More than that we do not want. What we want is to be considered as citizens. Give us all the rights, give us … human rights. We have to — we want to have a full citizenship, with all the duties, but also all the rights.”

In a letter penned at the beginning of July to his flock, he outlined the church-based medical care and schooling available in Aleppo. He wrote about how the “Build to Stay” program “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.” The church is providing interest-free loans to young people wanting to start up small businesses. “You have a future here” is his message to Christians worried that they have none in Syria.

“‘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,” he wrote.

Some Syrian Christians have lost their houses, others will sell them, but the program “will help anyone who wants to come back. We will help them, pay their transportation, help them get resettled, and send their children to our schools with the help of scholarships.”

Welcome to the reconstruction of a people. Spread the word. Good news, if we help — through prayer and the support of those who are helping, like the Knights of Columbus. It beats obsessively watching what feels like a car crash of domestic politics.

COPYRIGHT 2017 United Feature Syndicate

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