Laying the foundation to rebuild Christian community in Homs, Syria
THE FIRST STEP in the reconstruction of 97 damaged houses belonging to Christian families uprooted from Homs, Syria, was celebrated at a ceremony May 1, 2018. Our organization is supporting this initiative with a grant of $360,000.
During a celebration in the city’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral of Um Al-Zehnar, the owners of the houses were each given a small piece of rock inscribed with “Jesus is my rock”—the ultimate foundation for their future.
Previously, our organization has financed the reconstruction of 110 homes in Homs. But this is the first truly ecumenical reconstruction project, since the 97 families whose homes are being rebuilt belong to various denominations: one Maronite family and 26 Melkite families, on the Catholic side; and 11 Greek Orthodox and 59 Syrian Orthodox families. The Reconstruction Committee expressly wanted to reflect in this way the diversity of Christian rites within Syria.
Present at the ceremony were Melkite Archbishop of Homs, Mgr. Abdo Arbach, and local Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Selvanos Boutros Al-Nemeh. It is expected that the 97 houses will be finished by the end of the summer.
In the course of the ceremony, Father Andrzej Halemba, our representative for projects in the Middle East, stressed the importance of building with faith and trust in God, because, he said, citing Scripture “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor” (Psalm 127:1). He urged the people to renew their gratitude to God and to also remember the donors of our organization.
After the ceremony, one couple, Aziz Al Houri and his wife, said: “We thank you for what you are doing. We are so happy for our children. For we are going to return to our own home!” A young expectant mother, Genan Abdalaha, expressed her joy and hope that she might give birth to her new child in her own home. She said: “We can’t wait for the moment when we can return home; and God willing, it will be soon!”
The houses that are due to be rebuilt in this phase are all partially damaged. Structural engineers are on the spot, evaluating case-by-case the need for rebuilding work. Hala Mashhour, a young volunteer architect who is helping on the project, expressed her view of the work. While not concealing the difficulty of the challenge before them, she underlined its importance for the local community.
She also said she was to be able to contribute to the well-being of her own country and above all her own city. “This project fills me with enthusiasm,” she said, “because I would love to see Homs with a new face and her former beauty restored.” Her own family is currently still renting a small, six-person apartment that is costing around $50 US (25,000 Syrian Pounds) a month.
Homs is the third largest city in Syria. Strategically important, it was for years at the center of the struggle between the government and the opposition forces. The war in Syria is not over yet, but in Homs at least, things are improving and daily life is returning to some extent to normal. Nonetheless, there are some parts of Homs that remain in ruins, such as the district of Al Hamidieyh, for example.
The 97 houses are but a fraction of all those that still need to be rebuilt, but nevertheless it is a concrete signal of hope. The homes to be rebuilt belong to those Christian families who are in the most difficult situation financially and cannot pay rent, and who are at best surviving thanks to the charitable aid of their Church. These Christians ardently want to return to their homes, which is a sign that there is a real will to rebuild the Christian community in Homs. Rebuilding their ruined homes is vital for this process.