THE CHURCH OF ALTIP, in the Bab Al-Sebaa district, just south of the Old Quarter of Homs, Syria, is a both social and pastoral training center. “Years ago it was a Catholic school, but then the government banned all non-state schools. Since then we have used it as a catechetical center, giving religious instruction to young people and adults; we also hold social events and sports days here,” says Sister Samia Syiej, who is in charge of coordinating catechesis for a group of children preparing for confirmation.
Sister Samia is a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a congregation founded in Syria and guided by Ignatian spirituality. “We have 12 houses throughout Syria. I am also involved in pastoral work with handicapped children. Our congregation is very active and we pursue a range of initiatives, both pastoral and social,” she say.
Sister Samia points out the exact spot where the bombs fell; she says: “Local families have helped us to repair two sections of the church roof which were destroyed by the bombing. But in addition to everything else, what we now have to do is to help repair not only the external damage, but the damage within people’s hearts. I am a religious, and my first responsibility is to bear witness spiritually and help people. This is what moves me. We lived through the war and witnessed it up close. Catechesis is important in helping to heal the wounds.”
Working alongside Sister Samia are a number of university students who divide themselves between the various different catechetical groups and actively help in this apostolate.
“I am very conscious that I owe my life to God and to the prayers of people like Sister Samia,” says one young man, who is currently unemployed. He served in the Syrian army, which is required of all able-bodied men. During an ambush he was captured by a rebel group and held prisoner for months. Everybody assumed he was dead, but miraculously he succeeded in escaping. “I thank God, and I thank the sisters for never having given up praying for me. I am so grateful to them today and so now I am helping them as a catechist.”
“We have never stopped offering our help and our prayers. Everything is being done through the collaboration of the priests, religious and laity. We all work together to organize these activities and, thanks be to God, we have some very active young people,” says Sister Samia.
Sister Samia also works in a home for mentally handicapped children. She says: “We have always carried out projects with the help of Aid to the Church in Need, even during the bloodiest moments of the war. Children and adults alike often need a word of hope, and want to grow stronger in their faith. The children come to the church, and they can also be very demanding. During the summer, for example, we held a number of youth camps, which gave fresh hope to many people. This is what motivates us.”
In 2018, Aid to the Church in Need funded several dozen pastoral programs benefiting young people and children throughout Syria.