by Tess Daniels
“Our people have overcome,” Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan declared to the faithful gathered in Aleppo. Celebrating the first Mass in the newly restored Our Lady of the Assumption Syriac Catholic Church on September 9th, Younan proclaimed, “We will always be people of hope and life.” This inaugural Mass was filled to the brim with worshippers, representatives of Aleppo civil authorities, and renowned clergy including, Cardinal Mario Zenari—the Vatican nuncio to Syria—and bishops of other Christian churches.
In his homily, Younan recalled his visit to Aleppo in 2017, when he celebrated Palm Sunday Mass in the crumbling cathedral, with the faithful huddled under umbrellas “because the rain was falling on us from all sides of this cathedral.” Younan described how Aleppo has been recognized for centuries as the most important center for many Christian communities, yet had been unable to celebrate its own history because of the swirling war surrounding it. Younan pointed to the reopening of the cathedral as a beacon signaling that Syria is changing: “For many years, this House of God suffered a lot of devastation, being at the demarcation line with terrorists. It is now restored for worship, a sign of hope and victory of the good over the evil that destroyed so many churches and mosques in this beloved city, Aleppo.”
Younan continued by decrying the lack of basic human rights given to the people of Syria, as well as commenting on the political structure that brought about these injustices. “During the horrendous siege at the hands of criminals that lasted four years, this second-largest and prosperous city of Syria was deprived of basic necessities,” the patriarch said. “You lacked water, food, fuel and electricity. All this happened under the eyes of the ‘civilized’ world.” He also noted that the politicians of our age take advantage for personal gain. “You and hundreds of thousands of civilians under the ruling of the legitimate Syrian government were forgotten, abandoned even manipulated by those opportunistic geo-politicians of our present time,” he acknowledged.
In December 2016, the Syrian army almost retook control of the entire city amidst power struggles between the government and rebels dating back years. Younan recognized this broken past and unsettling present, but called for a hopeful, united future: “Aleppo has returned, and Syria will return to its previous glory, and even more beautiful, because there are many civil and spiritual officials who felt the duty of their responsibilities to serve … with integrity and honesty,” Younan proclaimed.
The Mass commemorated the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. “Our thanks go to our heavenly Virgin Mary, who protected the faithful of this cathedral, and protected the people of Aleppo,” the patriarch said. He prayed that she would hasten the return of Syrians who had migrated to other countries, and stressed that Aleppo still needs her intercession after so much suffering to grant the Middle East “a true peace and unshakable security based on justice for all.”
Photo Courtesy of the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate