A Franciscan friar who visited the Syrian city of Aleppo last week has said that the devastation there is beyond what people can imagine.
Fr John Luke Gregory, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Rhodes in Greece, said it was “like a whole suburb of London completely flattened. You can’t imagine the devastation. It’s not just streets – it’s whole areas bombed out.”
Despite that, he said, there was a sense of hope now that the heavy shelling had stopped: “The road sweepers are at work again. There are all these bombed buildings but they are cleaning the streets of litter.”
People had also moved back into the bombed areas, he said. “All round, the buildings might be bombed [but] you’ll see clean washing coming out.
“People need to turn back to doing ordinary things – this is a great sign of hope.”
Fr Gregory, who is from Sheffield, visited friars in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. Even amid heavy bombardment six friars had stayed in Aleppo, he said. He explained that, as a member of the governing body of the custos of the Holy Land, he had “made the decision to send friars to all these places, so I should have the courage to stay there too”.
Two Franciscans are in rebel-held areas, he said, but this was considered too dangerous for him to visit.
In Aleppo the Franciscans run schools and help with food and medicines for people, he said.
Last year at their Terra Sancta college they built a swimming pool “so that adults and children could come together and have some kind of recreation and normal life”.
The thinking, he said, was that “we might as well die happy doing normal things”.
When he visited, Fr Gregory said, “the people weren’t gloomy. There’s a sense of hope.”