The former College of the Holy Land in Aleppo, an emblematic place of the Custody of the Holy Land, has been officially returned by the Syrian State to the Franciscan Fathers of the Province of Sao Paulo: a strong gesture by Bashar al Assad towards the sons of St. Francis who carry out their ministry in certain areas still in the hands of the jihadists.
The friar recalls the important role played in the past by the College of the Holy Land, where “many doctors, engineers, State personalities and civil society received their school diploma.”
When the schools were nationalized by the Syrian regime,” continues Fr. Firas, “the ‘Holy Land College’ continued to represent an important place for the Christian presence in Aleppo, thanks above all to the activities carried out by the ‘Christian Educational Center.’”
“Since the beginning of the abominable crisis that has afflicted our beloved Country,” adds Fr. Firas, “the Franciscans have welcomed families in their mission in desperate need of a hospitable place that would offer a little stability and hope in their land and their cultural heritage. Hundreds of children from Aleppo flocked to the monastery every day, which became day after day an oasis of love, encounters and peace.”
“Now, thanks to the ‘long awaited gift’ received from the hands of the Virgin Mary,” continues the priest, “the Franciscans will be able to carry out their mission more effectively at the service of the Syrian people afflicted by war, epidemics and tribulations of all kinds.”
In a letter, the Franciscan Father also asks “God to bestow all his graces on His Excellency President Bashar Hafez al Assad, because he has honored us with this gift dear to all our hearts”.
As it should be, Fr. Firas does not fail to thank the Syrian president, without whom the handover of the building would not have been made possible, asking “God to bestow all his graces on His Excellency President Bashar Hafez al Assad, because he has honored us with this gift dear to all our hearts,” concludes the custos of the province of Sao Paulo.
It was in fact during a meeting with the Syrian Head of State on December 23, 2019, that the Franciscans asked to recover the land and the structure of the ‘Holy Land’ that belonged to the Order, a petition to which Bashar al Assad seems to have been sensitive.
In 2020, a handful of Franciscan religious – about fifteen in all – are still present in Syria. Their ministry is carried out in the parishes of the villages of Knayeh and Jacoubieh, in the Orontes valley, in defiance of the danger, because these territories are partly occupied by jihadist militias.