Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, 'war has not divided us'

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Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo

Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, 'war has not divided us'

By Mélinée Le Priol /la-croix.com

During a visit to Paris, Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, spoke to Mélinée Le Priol for La Croix about the situation of Christians in Syria after more than seven years of war.

Following is the text of the interview:

La Croix: What does your city, Aleppo, look like close to two years after the end of the fighting between the rebels and the Syrian regime?
Bishop Antoine Audo: The eastern part of the city, where the December 2016 bombardments were concentrated, was greatly destroyed, but I’m struck by the speed of the reconstruction, and impressed by the resourcefulness of Aleppans.

The restoration of water and electricity, quite soon after the fighting, changed their daily existence, and life gradually resumed there.

Today, cars are circulating once again. Small factories have replaced those that were destroyed.

There are no checkpoints any more, nor any military presence in the streets. We’ve gone back to our old habits.

How is the economic situation?
Very tough. Before the war started in 2011, a dollar was equivalent to 50 Syrian pounds.
Today it’s worth 500 Syrian pounds! And salaries have not followed suit. About 80 percent of Syrians are now below the poverty line.

That said, the inhabitants do not look as if they’re living in misery, even if there are, of course, children begging in the street, for example.

Syrians have set up a real system of solidarity to live and survive decently.

What are the most urgent humanitarian needs?
A huge amount of work has already been done, in particular by Christian organisations such l’Œuvre d’Orient, JRS or Caritas, but much remains to be done.
To my mind, the current priorities are medical services and psychological support, but for us to live decently once more, the war needs to end.

The great powers, Russia and the United States in particular, have interests tied to gas and oil in the region.

The armed groups have done everything to make the conflict a religious one; but we, Syrians, we are simply asking for the war to end. Syria will then be unified.

Hasn’t the war divided Christians and Muslims, for example?
There has never been a dividing line between Muslims and Christians in Syria, unlike the one between the ruling Alawis and the Sunnis [who make up the majority of the population].

Nevertheless, we are doing everything to maintain a significant Christian presence.
How is Syria’s Christian community after more than seven years of war?
It is greatly weakened. Before the war, about 1.5 million Christians lived in Syria; today we’re just half of that.

We’ve lost many young people, who left because of joblessness and military service, and also the richest people.

Many live today in Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, France, or Belgium, where I met them over the past few days, while visiting Europe.

I see that some of them look at me with a form of guilt: I, their bishop, stayed, while they left.

But even if, naturally, I would like them to go back, I have infinite respect for them and I try not to make them feel guilty.

I know that the homesickness and love for Syria are there, but to go back, you need resources.

Did you lose any priests in the war?
No, I have six today, throughout the country — since I am the Chaldean bishop for the whole of Syria — and that was also the case before the war.

My priests stayed here, but their mission is now partly humanitarian: education, medical services, and food have now been added to the usual pastoral mission.

They coordinate the humanitarian assistance and help to distribute it in the parishes.

What are the circumstances in which Christmas is being prepared for in Aleppo this year?
Last year already, it was happier that before the end of the fighting, when we had to celebrate the midnight mass in the late afternoon for security reasons.
This year, I think it will even be a little better than last year; happier, with more lights, as if to say, we are here and we wish to stay here.

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 13:17
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