By Maria Lozano
Briefing for our Donors
THE RE-CONSECRATION of the altar in the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Peace (Dec. 1, 2017) was a new milestone on the journey back to normalcy in Homs, Syria. For three long years, 2011-2014—the city split between rebels and the Syrian regime—it was the setting for some of the fiercest fighting of the civil war. By the time the government took full control of Homs again, the city was left in ruins.
In his emotional homily for the occasion, Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi said, addressing an audience of more than a thousand: “Many have fallen as martyrs, your homes were destroyed; you were displaced and you lost your belongings and money; nevertheless, you did not allow these hardships to overcome you and defeat your spirit. You came back, with your strong will, to rebuild what has been destroyed; and here, today, you, with your presence, bring life back to this cathedral.”
The Melkite Catholic cathedral was the most extensively damaged church building in Homs. Our Lady Queen of Peace and all the property of the local diocese were in rebel hands until May 9, 2014. Many of the icons and statues were stolen or disfigured. There was widespread damage from bombings and bullets, as well as fire; in the crypt, tombs of priests were profaned.
To make matters worse, said Melkite Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach of Homs, “two days after the liberation of Homs, there was an enormous explosion inside the cathedral, causing damage that was ten times worse. The cupola, the roof and two entire walls collapsed. The rebels had hidden explosives beneath the bishop’s cathedra, the bishop’s throne.”
The worst of the fighting may be over, but the situation is far from stable. On Dec. 5, 2017, an explosion in a bus left six people dead and eight wounded. Yet, Archbishop Arbach told us: “the people are accustomed to suffering and, therefore, despite all the difficulties, they keep going. Of course there is still some fear, and some of them are still thinking of emigrating. But the situation outside is not easy either and many people are returning and have begun to rebuild their homes. The archbishop has led by example—he was one of the first Church officials to return to work in Homs, giving his faithful a sense of security.
“Rebuilding the churches and restoring them is meaningless without your return to them; without the reconstruction and rebuilding of man,” Patriarch Absi said in his homily, adding: “Today, we not only celebrate the reconstruction of this church, but also celebrate our will to stay here, in our land and country. The reconstruction of this cathedral symbolizes the hope in our hearts and it is a sign that we are overcoming despair and death.”
Much work remains to be done on the cathedral. But this Christmas, Mass will be said in Our Lady Queen of Peace cathedral in Homs for the first time in seven long years.