‘Absolute despair’ in Syria as country is hit by two earthquakes

THERE ARE UNCONFIRMED REPORTS OF SEVERAL FATALITIES AMONG CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES, and at least one priest was killed when a building collapsed in Aleppo. Melkite Emeritus Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo narrowly escaped death and is in hospital.

The devastating earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria in the early hours of Monday has directly affected thousands of people in both countries, including many Christian communities in Syria that were already facing a difficult situation after more than a decade of war, persecution and, more recently, a crippling financial crisis. Hours later, a second tremor struck the region.

Many cities and towns with a significant Christian population, such as Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia and Hama were badly affected and ACN has already confirmed that some Christians in these places were killed or wounded, although, for now, all its local staff and project partners have been accounted for and are well. ACN has received unconfirmed reports of deaths among Christian families in Aleppo and Lattakia and reports of at least 20 injuries among Christians in Hama.

One priest, Fr Emad Daher, died when the residence of the Archbishop Jeanbart, collapsed. Monsignor Jeanbart himself, a former project partner of ACN, narrowly escaped and is currently being treated for his wounds in a hospital, though he is said to be stable. Another Christian man who was in the building at the time also died.

There are also accounts of structural damage to some buildings such as at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. George, in Aleppo, the Franciscan Church in Lattakia and minor damage to the ACN-supported Hope Center, also in Aleppo.

“The Church in Syria is shocked by the catastrophe. Even as far away as Beirut, people went down to the streets, worried that another explosion was about to unsettle their country. For now, the Church is checking on its people and families. All ACN staff in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus are doing fine. We are worried about Mgr. Jean-Clement Jeanbart, the former Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, whose building collapsed and who we have been told is now in hospital but recovering,” said Regina Lynch, director of projects for ACN International, who also called for prayers for all those who were killed, wounded, or otherwise affected by the natural disaster.

The archbishop of Homs, Jean Abdo Arbach, has already commented on the earthquake, saying that the 30 seconds it lasted “completely changed the lives of thousands of people.”

Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart.

“Let us hope the earthquake shakes open the hearts of the international communities and of all world leaders, so that they help Syria and do not forget the people who are suffering. The population is in a state of absolute despair and anguish. There are people wandering through the streets, not knowing where to go, and desperately searching for family and friends. Many people have died or are missing,” the archbishop, who is also the director of the Syrian branch of Caritas, told ACN.

Aid to the Church in Need will continue to assess the situation, to gather as much information as possible on the immediate needs of the local Church, so that it can direct emergency aid accordingly.

Meanwhile, existing ACN projects on the ground including soup kitchens, support for the elderly and medical projects, will continue to assist the population, which is now in even greater need than before.

—Raquel Martin & Filipe d’Avillez