Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Thursday, 23 May 2024
Syria: Christianity returns to the ruins of Darayya

Sina Hartert/ :

Fifteen Catholic families can now return to Damascus, thanks to reconstruction projects funded by ACN. This will secure the Christian presence in the area, where, according to one tradition, the conversion of Paul occurred. 


An elderly couple stands beaming in front of their simple home. Traces of the Syrian civil war can clearly be seen, but the scent of jasmine in the inner courtyard welcomes visitors from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The interior is equipped only with the essentials: a stove, a sofa, a wardrobe, a small table, and a few chairs. Yossef Farida and his wife proudly show their rooms. Their fingers are without jewelry, without wedding rings – the price of rebuilding their destroyed home. 


The Faridas are one of four Christian families who have now returned to Darayya, a suburb of Damascus left in ruins by bombing. They have rebuilt their homes using their own resources. Before the civil war, the city had around 300,000 inhabitants, who were relatively well-off, thanks to a flourishing agricultural sector and the suburb’s furniture factories, which processed the high-quality wood from the surrounding area.  


However, soon after the war began, Darayya became a center of the uprising against the Assad government, with rebel groups and government troops clashing over four long years. During the siege, much of the city was controlled by the Martyrs of Islam Brigade. By the time the government and the insurgent forces reached an agreement, 90 percent of the city had been destroyed. 


During the war, the churches in the area were subject to vandalism, and their icons were stolen. The destruction of Darayya hurt its historical diversity – the suburb of Damascus is notable for its Christian presence, dating back several centuries. Some Christian traditions say that Darayya is close to where the conversion of the Apostle Paul occurred on his way to Damascus.  


“Since the war, many Muslims have been able to return to the city and rebuild their homes. But of the 150 Christian families who lived there, many never returned, as their homes had been razed to the ground. Many have now moved to neighboring towns, and some have emigrated to Europe or Canada,” explains Marco Mencaglia, project director for ACN, after his visit to the city. “Those whose homes have not been completely destroyed long to return to Darayya. However, most of them lack the means to rebuild or renovate them.” This is the case with Abou Rashad, a family man, whose ground floor was bombed out and whose garden is a pile of rubble. He is grateful for ACN’s help. The international charity recently committed to financially supporting the reconstruction of homes for 15 Catholic families, to secure the Christian presence in Darayya. 


Father Georges Jbeil, the financial manager of the Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Damascus, was previously the parish priest in Darayya and is delighted that life will soon resume in the parish. “We completed the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Church in 2022, with the hope that parishioners would soon return. But not many have returned yet, so there are still no services in the church. That’s why we are so grateful to ACN for the help. Thanks to your love, 15 families will return to their homes and fill the parish with life again. In this way, the light of faith and the witness of the Gospel can shine.”