extensively damaged by the war
The Melkite Catholic Cathedral of Homs is dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. However, in the course of Syria's bloody civil war it has suffered the same fate as more than 200 other Christian churches and been extensively damaged, not to say almost destroyed. From April 2011 until May 2014 it was used as a base by rebel armed fighters, while the archbishop's house was turned into a field hospital. The archbishop himself moved into a rented house in a small town on the outskirts of Homs.
On 8th May 2014, after more than three years absence, he was at last able to return to this once besieged and cut-off city, where he found the cathedral and his own residence deserted, ransacked and looted. The cathedral itself had been hit by rocket fire and there were seven huge holes in the roof, ranging from 1 to 7 metres in diameter, caused by rocket-propelled grenades. The icons had been either stolen or deliberately defaced, the marble columns lay in ruins and many other furnishings had been burnt. In the crypt the tombs of deceased churchmen had been broken open and desecrated, and one set of remains had even been torn from its tomb.
Shortly after the archbishop and his companions had left the cathedral after inspecting it, they were about to return when they received a phone call. Just 10 minutes after their visit, there had been a powerful explosion inside the cathedral. Had they stayed there just a few minutes longer, they would in all probability have all been killed. The archbishop and his companions gave thanks to God for protecting them and returned to inspect the damage. The bomb had been hidden inside the pulpit, and the cathedral was now indeed almost completely destroyed.
Today there is hope once more in Homs. The 1st of July 2016, the International Day of the Child, was a special day, which was celebrated by the children of Syria as a Day of Prayer for Peace. Throughout the day, in a number of Syrian towns and cities, there were a series of events and shared prayers, including several 'peace processions' during which the children carried images and statues of the Child Jesus as the Infant King, holding the globe in his left hand and blessing the world with his right. It is an image familiar to many Catholics as the Infant Jesus of Prague.
(A children's choir singing in the destroyed Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Homs, with a poster and statue portraying the Infant Jesus of Prague © Aid to the Church in Need)
In Homs itself 700 children of different Christian denominations all prayed together for peace. It was the first such public event here since the liberation of the city. The event was broadcast throughout the Middle East by the French language Christian TV channel 'Tele Lumiere' and was also shown on the main Syrian news channel. The children walked in a long procession through the city, visiting each of the Christian churches in turn, before finally coming to pray in the ruined cathedral. The sections of the cathedral wall that were still standing were decorated with larger-than-life posters of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Together with the children, the Catholic and Orthodox bishops recited a prayer to the Child Jesus, and in a short address Archbishop Jean Abdo Arbach described the Infant Jesus as 'the source of peace for our children and our country', for, as he added, 'He himself greets us with the words â€š Peace be with you.' The children then lit candles in front of an image of the Infant Jesus.
The large posters portraying the Child Jesus as the Infant King will stay in the cathedral. That is the decision of Archbishop Arbach, for as he recalls, Jesus is the Prince of Peace whom the prophet Isaiah foretold, and therefore the one to whom the people of Homs will naturally turn to implore peace for their city and their country. Now that the siege of Homs has finally been lifted, the people are determined to rebuild their ruined cathedral. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has already promised to help with $117,000, in order to repair the most serious damage.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929
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