[Editor’s note: The Community of Sant’Egidio, founded in Rome in 1968, is one of the movements in the Catholic Church that have grown up especially since the Second Vatican Council. It’s known for its commitments to social justice, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, and conflict resolution, and it’s a favorite of Pope Francis.
In 2014, Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio, launched an international appeal to save the Syrian city of Aleppo, long considered a model of harmonious co-existence among its Muslim majority and Christian minority, but today an epicenter of the country’s civil war.
On Saturday, Riccardi renewed that appeal with an essay in Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops. This Crux translation appears courtesy of the Community of Sant’Egidio.]
Repeatedly since 2014, we’ve launched appeals for Aleppo: to save the city, to build a no-combat zone around it, to bring relief to the population. Those appeals, despite the support of so many men and women of good will, have fallen on deaf ears between the fighting on the ground and the international community.
An “open city” could have been created, preserving a unique environment from both a historical and a human point of view.
Instead, nothing happened. It didn’t seem to interest anyone to stop so much destruction. Thus, Aleppo has been demolished piece by piece, while its people have been subjected to a long-running siege and to the brutality of war, and the madness continues.
The ruins that continue to accumulate in Aleppo are the living monument to an absurd war. The international community is lost in a dense web of games and overlapping vetoes. Meanwhile, the civility of living together is being destroyed, which, notwithstanding its difficulties, has made Aleppo a peaceful witness in the Middle East. Its large and diverse Christian community has, for the most part, gone into exile.
The paradox today is that, while a fragile truce (with many violations) generally holds in Syria, Aleppo is dying of war. Indeed, the city is at the heart of the conflict. It’s the ultimate mockery in a long and painful story since 2012.
Just in the last week, the count of the dead reached at least 200 people, of whom 50 are children. Even the last pediatrician has fallen, one of a host of courageous doctors who had remained in the city.
The Assad regime, which in the past launched its own terrible explosives, is bombing the neighborhoods occupied by the rebels in an effort to take them back, in order to reconnect them with the part of the city up to now still in its hands, where the remaining Christians live. However, this area has been struck again by the rebels after a brief period of tranquility. The battle of Aleppo continues, in a city where there are now more ruins than buildings still standing.
It’s time to stop it!
The channel of communication between the United States and Russia, finally, has shown itself to be working in the decision for a truce in the rest of Syria. Now, what’s left of Aleppo must be saved.
The war cannot go on in this martyred city. When the fragile wall of division between the two parties falls, that controlled by the government and that by the rebels, how will the people of Aleppo be able to live together? How will Muslims and Christians live together?
In fact, a great deal of hatred has been set loose. So many people have died, and have disappeared. The Syro-Orthodox Bishop Gregorios Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Bishop Paul Yazigi, kidnappred three years ago, vanished into thin air.
The Church of Aleppo, widowed by its two bishops, is like so many families in the city that have lost a father, a mother, a relative, or many more than one.
Aleppo deserves peace, and right now.
It’s been proven that much can be done politically to stop the armed struggle. Why not do it for Aleppo? Weeks can’t be lost while standing by and watching this cruel destruction. The United States and Russia must take a decisive step. The Assad regime must stop, if it aims to recover a bit of credibility in the eyes of the world.
History will render a judgment about so many dead, and so much destruction. And, sadly, this model of coexistence won’t be recreated easily. The violence has to stop, so that at least a small sliver of hope and life for Aleppo will still be there.