Episcopal letter from Aleppo, Syria—’I am happy this Pentecost’

ADDRESSED TO HIS LOCAL FAITHFUL and friends and supporters around the world, this message for Pentecost 2020 was written by Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria:

To my dear friends awaiting news from me this day, long-awaited and memorable, marking my return to the archdiocesan episcopal residence, restored and made new again, following nine years of displacement, restrictions and desolation. On this feast of Pentecost that I chose for my return, and which is the anniversary of the Apostles’ confirmation and of the baptism of the first Christians of Syria, I do not want to keep myself, if only for an instant, from departing from politically correct language, to proclaim loudly and without shame: ‘I am happy!”

Of course, there has been no occasion to be happy with all that has befallen us for almost 10 years. It is obvious that I cannot be happy thinking about the hundreds of thousands of victims, who have gone because of this evil, insane, and savage war that has ravaged our poor country.

It is also obvious that I cannot be happy in view of the innumerable destructions that touched our homes, our structures and infrastructures, built at the cost of great sacrifices during dozens of years of intense labor and relentless work, done by a valiant people, faithful and committed to the task.

I can also not be happy in contemplating all the evil that has befallen our population, in depriving it of schools, hospitals, the best of our patrimony, the ability to earn our daily bread, countless factories and the workshops of all professions. I certainly cannot be happy to see hundreds of thousands of workers reduced to unemployment and deprived of all their resources.

The wound left by the disappearance of dozens of faithful, abducted or killed—among them two of my brother bishops and many priests—never leaves my thinking, and renders painful the memory they have left in my heart.

The sight of our destroyed churches and the deteriorated and demolished structures of our social and cultural institutions cause me much suffering. I am particularly pained thinking about what sacrifices, efforts and heavy and long labor it took to build these vital and precious institutions—how the work of a lifetime suddenly collapsed and disappeared before my eyes.

And how could I be happy seeing many thousands of faithful leave the country? The massive flow of emigration that has bled our community to the point of suffucation deeply disturbs me and has the power to make my days sad and my heart unhappy.

Yet, despite everything, despite all successive, multiple sufferings and innumerable setbacks, coming home today I am aware of deep inside me being truly happy and satisfied!

Archbishop Jeanbart

I am happy first of all because throughout this despicable war, I have found, in my everyday life, the Lord. At every sunrise he made me feel his presence a bit more, his tender sollicitude to make me more and more confident in Him and to put me at peace! I have never felt His nearness with such intensity, except on the day, more than 50 years ago, when I made the decision to leave everything behind and consecrate my life to Him and follow Him.

I am also happy to have learned to find, in each of my badly tried faithful who come to me, a well-loved brother, or a cherished son capable of filling my heart with sincere affection and with a frank and comforting human friendship. I realize a bit more each day that the virtue of Charity that challenges us—subject of so many analyses and countless meditations, contemplated a thousand times in my talks—can only take concrete form in me through everyday relationships, and thus gradually, day after day, become a fertile and moving reality, lived with joy and enchantment.

I am happy too because I sense a great joy in seeing my faithful, who I have been able to reassure and help live with serenity, good health  and confident in their future during particularly critical and difficult days. I am also happy to take account of numerous friends and benefactors who take care of me and who, like brothers, stay at my side to support me as I carry on. Every day I feel a bit closer to each one of them, filled by an unspeakable affection that fills me with joy, like a parent with his loved ones.

Finally, I am happy above all because I have been able to experience, constantly without stopping, the powerful presence of the Friend whom I have given all my trust. I have been able to feel his hand in removing many obstacles from my way, allowing me to move ahead fully confident in Him, walking a steep and dangerous path full of difficulties. At the same time, I am happy to have been aware of His Providence, which has never abandoned me all along my apostolic journey, making my priestly ministry fertile and rendering my social efforts useful in service of the less fortunate of his faithful.

I am amazed as I realize all that the Lord has allowed me to do in these years of war so painful  and drowned in an ocean of blood, desolation and distress. Glory be His all powerfullness and great goodness!

At this point, I cannot but exclaim and proclaim, like Mary, my joy and happiness to have been filled by Him who deigned to call me into his service. Working for the Redeemer, the Lord of the world and the Master of wisdom, fills my life with meaning  and gives a solid reason for my human existence. How can I remain silent and fail to thank God, grateful that, by His grace, “I am happy.”

Archbishop Jean C. Jeanbart
Aleppo, Syria
May 31, 2020—Feast of Pentecost