CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Summer camps without bombs

ALEPPO (SE): The summer months in northern Iraq this year saw a special treat for some 860 young people who took up the offer to take part in two months of activities held by the Church in Aleppo.
 
For many of the younger ones it was not only the first time to have the freedom to join such a camp, but their first summer without the sound of bombs exploding in the background.
 
Fides reported that the Christian community is making the most of its regained freedom and the boys and girls aged between four and 15 from various religious backgrounds enjoyed the summer activities organised by the Latin parish of St. Francis.
 
A 44-year-old friar, Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, led the series of projects, which ran throughout June and July. He said that the refreshing miracle of the two months for everyone was the absence of the sound of violence and the smell of fear.
 
The value of this year’s camp is best illustrated by the story of a Christian family that had fled Raqqa—the stronghold of the Islamic State—a year-and-a-half ago and started to rebuild their lives, although with some effort.
 
The parents and the two children, a nine-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, saw all sorts of atrocities in their home town, including severed heads put on poles and left in the public square.
 
The sharing of their story was one of the most significant moments of what is called the summer oratory that is part of the closing ceremony for the camp.
 
The two-month experience was an unforgettable and a completely new experience for the two children. For the first time they had the opportunity to draw, sing, listen to music, swim in a pool and play basketball. “My children’s faces lit up,” the mother said.
 
More than 60 volunteers and professional educators monitored the children and teenagers in their activities.
 
For the first time in six years, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the summer camp was held without the sound or fear of rockets.
 
At the end of July, the young people attended a large exhibition featuring a portrait by a 10-year-old girl of a neighbour, a young soldier who died defending the homeland.
 
On the final day, over 3,200 people, parents, grandparents and friends came to witness the closing ceremony of the camp and be part of the joyful experience.
 
Father Ibrahim explained that every activity this year was linked to a significant event in the history of the Church, including the celebration for the 800-year presence of the Franciscans in the Middle East.
 
He spoke enthusiastically about another Church initiative called Aleppo More Beautiful, in which hundreds of young Christians and Muslims worked together cleaning up the city.
 
“Most of the youngest, whose childhood was erased by a six-year war, for the first time in their lives appreciated the opportunity to play without fear of the missiles. Most of all, the Oratory gave them the chance to release stress,” Father Ibrahim said.
 
On July 27, another 550 or so young Chaldean Catholics gathered for a festival in Alqosh, a Christian town in northern Iraq on the border of what was Islamic State territory during the height of its power.
 
Addressing the group, Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako expressed his joy at the event describing it as “a restart for indigenous Christian communities and for all Iraq after the years of the jihadist occupation.”

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