Hope and fear: Testimony of a Syrian Jesuit


Destroyed tanks in Azaz Syria

When the uprising began in Syria, there was great hope and fear. Syrians of all colours knew reform was vital, but that it would come at a heavy cost. Some were hopeful and encouraged the reform movement, others, more fearful, resisted it. There was extremism and moderation in both camps.

We Jesuits have always wanted to be present at that universal middle ground Syrians long for; but finding it is no easy task. Syrian Jesuits do not represent themselves, but the work of a particular group, 'Christians' and the local Church.

We had to take into account the complexity of the situation - the effect of geopolitics on the movement - and the fragility of the sectarian, socio-cultural and ethnic mosaic of Syrian society. Having chosen that middle ground, we have sought to shape a new Syrian future: more peaceful, free and inclusive of everyone.

Although Syrians interact spontaneously in many places: schools, universities, workplaces, this is not the case in mosques, churches or related associations. Charitable projects had been established by religious organisations to assist those affected by the crisis. But the colour of mosque services is purely Muslim, and church services Christian. Our project had a twin objective to create a space for Syrians to compose a 'Syrian colour', without neglecting their religious colour.

Working together with our brothers and sisters from all ethnic groups and religious affiliations, JRS has assisted all those affected by the conflict, particularly the most vulnerable. It is not a Christian service for Christians, nor a Christian service for Muslims, nor even a Christian service for Syria. Our work together embraces all our differences. We have gathered as a microcosm of Syrian society to prevent our project from falling prey to discrimination and
extremism. Each contributing from his/her experience, taking ownership of this project to save and rebuild Syria.

Less than two months after we opened our doors, more than 100 young adults had joined us in Aleppo: Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, Christians, lsmailis, Muslims, mostly university students. They worked side-by-side for eight months for nothing, sometimes even spending their own money. Most had been strangers to me and to each other.

They knew there are people who needed our efforts and hearts to soften their torment. This partnership surprised everyone, welcomed by some and sharply criticised by others. It has opened the door to a new kind of dialogue, one that should have been opened long ago. The crisis has become an opportunity for these young people to build what was previously an unimaginable fraternal relationship.

Before, I had never dreamed that one day I would celebrate Mass in our chapel, while a Muslim girl was rolling out her prayer rug in the next room. I had never dreamed of being welcomed in a Mosque and feeling at home as I have with my brothers in Aleppo.

The younger generation in Syria is in danger. Many still work in Syria. They are not extremists or terrorists. They are Syria's hope, and need our support. They are risking everything to make life in Syria possible.

But, the solution is not only the responsibility of Syrians. The selfishness and interests of many nations play a crucial role in the conflict's prolongation. The pain and death of Syrian children, before the world's eyes for almost four years now, is all our responsibility. Each of us bears some responsibility for the indifference of international politics. Let us voters now demand our leaders make peace-building a priority.

Mourad Abu Seif SJMourad Abu Seif SJ (pictured left recently in Rome) is a member of the Near East Province currently doing tertianship in Dublin