Photo: Man walks along a battered street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, Sept. 19. (CNS photo/Yazan Homsy, Reuters)
The city of Homs — considered to be the cradle of the rebellion against the Syrian government — was home to many thousands of Christians for centuries but today fewer than 100 remain in the embattled city center, mostly elderly people. This letter by Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt was originally written in Arabic and was translated by Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.
HOMS, Syria (September 26, 2013)
THERE is an atmosphere of love, openness and interaction and those of us who remain feel that we are one group. It’s hard to live a painful circumstances alone, and it is possible that these conditions become harder and harder. Each one of us needs to do more and more to help each other. A person has to pay much attention to the needs of another, to the point of forgetting one’s own needs.
We are suffering from food shortages. No food has entered our besieged region for more than 15 months. For months we were able to rely on local warehouses, but these are now empty. So too are the abandoned homes barren of food stocks. We are surviving on what little food remains in our own homes, but we will soon only find bulgur wheat and that will be gone too. We thank God that each and every one of us still gets 1 kilogram of flour a week, but we do not know how long this supply will remain available.
If we would know the duration of the siege, we could organize our affairs and calculate the expense for food use. If we would know, for example, that the siege will end two months later, then we can manage our affairs—but of course there is no certainty whatsoever and this year the winter will be very difficult for us.
We will suffer from hunger, cold, lack of electricity and water. How can we heat a room and, if we find food, how will me manage to cook it? Sources of oil, gasoline and diesel or gas are lacking. We will resort to wood for heating but that stockpile too is dwindling. Many abandoned homes are without windows, and doors. They are even without furniture.
The houses that are still inhabited have broken windows, and holes in the walls and roof due to the fighting. We take water from mosques and churches by the bucket full, but running water requires fuel for generators and there is none. Sometimes we look into shops for water. And there is no way to escape from the eyes of the people who are besieging us.
There is no access in and out of our region. Our movements are restricted to one square kilometer.
Then there is the deteriorating health condition of people in our community: the majority complain of weakness and fatigue due to lack of food. Disease has captured some of us and is knocking on the door of others.
The interaction with the circumstances of our lives here does not produce optimism, but we know that all the Syrian people are suffering—and we are part of them. Let’s help each other to cross this difficult stage, living out solidarity and interdependence in our search for new horizons.