By ACN Staff
NEW YORK—The remains of five Christians abducted by jihadist rebels four years ago from the Christian town of Maaloula have at last been laid to rest in their home town. A solemn ceremony took place April 25, 2017.
Earlier that day, a funeral Mass was said in a Damascus suburb by Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. Sources in the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the remains of five bodies were discovered three months ago in a cave in the Lebanese region of Irsal, which borders on Syria.
DNA tests confirmed that the five bodies belonged to five of the six Christians who had been abducted on Sept. 7, 2013 by Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the rebel factions involved in the Syrian conflict. The sixth captive is still missing. Four of the five belonged to the Melkite Church and one to the Greek Orthodox Church. Their names are Ghassan Shanis, Dawoud Milaneh, Chadi Taalab, Atef Kalloumeh and Jihad Taalab, The sixth abductee is Moussa Shanis.
In his homily, Patriarch Gregory III Laham said: “There is no greater love than to give oneself for his loved ones! Jesus Christ gave up his life for us; our martyrs gave up their lives for the love of their God and Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross and came back to life for us.”
Father Toufic Eid, the parish priest of Maaloula, described the calm the funeral cortège from Damascus to Maaloula: “In the Syrian popular tradition the people sing and shout to express their sorrow, but on this occasion the mourners refrained from doing; instead a profound, respectful and painful silence accompanied the coffins as they were carried on the shoulders of family members and friends.”
Maaloula, one of the last communities in the world where Aramaic is still spoken as the main language, is some 40 miles from Damascus. Between September 2013 and April 2014 the town was besieged, attacked and finally captured and occupied by rebel Syrian factions.
Father Toufic reflected: “How to help people to forgive? Forgiveness is an integral part of our faith, yet it is so difficult. It takes time. And I tell them that it is not for the good of others, for the good of the other person. We have to walk the path of forgiveness for our own good, for our relationship with God. We have to forgive, because if we do not, we make a pact with evil, our heart fills with hatred and becomes blinded. Evil seeks to prevail within our hearts, and we have to fight against this.”
For six years now a bitter conflict has been devastating Syria. Some 6.3 million have been displaced and 13.5 million people are now dependent on humanitarian aid. This is roughly two thirds of the country’s population. In addition, close 5 million people are officially registered as refugees in neighbouring countries. Many of the younger children have known nothing but war and exile from their homes.
ACN is helping 1,500 refugee families living in rural areas surrounding Damascus with a monthly food packet and other basic necessities for the next three months, at a cost of approx. $42 per family per month.