Christians in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo are holding their spirits high by joining in Holy Week rites despite the deadly threat posed by Islamic Sate militants who recently took a city nearby, says a high-ranking church leader in Syria.
"These are difficult days, especially after the fall of Idlib," said Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo for the Latins in an interview with Asianews.it on April 2.
"[Idlip] is not far from Aleppo, and people fear the same might happen here," he continued. "Yet, in spite of fears, Christians are taking part in Holy Week rites and the churches are always packed."
He recalled the number of people who attended church service on Palm Sunday earlier in the week, saying the mere "presence" of the faithful looked encouraging in the face of danger posed by militants.
"People were not afraid and attended Mass and the procession with their children," Abou Khazen said. "For the youngest, it was a special feast, for they carried the adorned candles during the procession . . . Faith is really stronger than fear."
Islamic State forces seized Idlip in northwestern Syria, stoking fears that the extremists could next strike Aleppo, where Christians fled following their persecution in the country by jihadists.
Abou Khazen explained that while fear pervaded people, their presence at the church and keeping their faith together was admirable. He said it shows their resolve to bear witness in the midst of the IS danger.
"For us pastors, their witness is a source of encouragement," said Abou Khazen. "Thanks to their faith and prayers, the Risen Lord will deliver us."
He said the church, through Caritas Syria, is keeping its support to refugees regardless of religion, as people continue to be affected by the tension caused by the IS.
The international relief organization's arm in the country is providing basic needs for Christian and Muslim refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict.
"It is great to see the joy of these people, the kids and their parents, who realize that we look at them with affection, for their own good. They too are part of our family and this celebration.
"It is great to see the joy of these people, the kids and their parents, who realize that we look at them with affection, for their own good," said Abou Khazen. "They too are part of our family and this celebration."