Speaking by telephone in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the priest told how he celebrated Mass on Sunday (22 July) to the sound of shooting and explosives and how afterwards people rushed forward to “embrace me with emotion”.
Describing daily life as “very difficult”, the priest, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, said that people had been trying to get by without bread and other foodstuffs, gas, electricity – all in temperatures of more than 43C. Saying that after the violence, the area was now eerily quiet, he declared his intention to stay with his people through good times and bad.
He stressed the difficulty of trying to give people hope before concluding with an appeal for prayer. And in a letter to relatives and friends, he wrote: “God alone knows how difficult it is for me to find words to encourage the people not to give up hope.”
He ends, stating: “Please pray for us. Pray for our present and for our future. Pray so that [the violence] stops and that somebody saves can still be saved.”
In the Aid to the Church in Need interview, he described Sunday’s Mass, he said: “It was the first time in my life that I celebrated the Mass… against the sound of gunfire and explosions. It was very difficult. We prayed intensely for peace. Afterwards, the believers embraced me with emotion. Although they were still afraid, they went home strengthened.”
Although stressing the city’s huge problems, he stated: “I will not leave. I am a priest in good and bad times. This means I am a ‘father’ and must now remain with my people.” He said: “Material aid is important but the depths of fear and loneliness cannot be overcome by money. It is important for us in Syria to know that we are not alone.”
The priest’s comments come after Syria’s Bishop Antoine Audo warned of disaster for Christians as fighting intensified in his city of Aleppo and the capital Damascus. He suggested a repeat of the catastrophe in the city of Homs where intense violence led to many churches being desecrated and more than 125,000 Christians fleeing for their lives.
As a Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Aid to the Church in Need has so far this year given more than £100,000 in urgent aid for people urgently needing food, medicine and shelter.
Aid to the Church in Need leaders International Executive President Joannes Freiherr Heereman and UK Director Neville Kyrke-Smith have called on people to pray for peace in Syria.