As World Youth Day pilgrims gathered for a July 30 prayer vigil with Pope Francis in Poland, about 1,200 young people came together in Aleppo, Syria, to celebrate their own version of the international event.
The July 29-30 gathering in Aleppo was organized with the approval of local bishops. More than 30 associations, church groups and schools were involved.
“Doing something like this is not easy in times of war. We had a lot of difficulties but try to overcome them,” said a Salesian priest who was one of the organizers of the Aleppo gathering. He made the comments in a statement released by World Youth Day organizers in Krakow.
The Aleppo event had as its theme “Move the Heart,” accompanied by the Gospel phrase “Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy.”
It took place in the Salesians’ Santa Matilde church. Like the Krakow World Youth Day, it included catechetical sessions on the face of mercy and the dynamics of mercy; the opening of a Door of Mercy just for the event with the presence and blessing of Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo; eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation; prayer for peace in Syria and in the world; and a celebration and sharing of experiences.
The young people in Aleppo addressed greetings to Pope Francis and posted video and other images of their gathering online.
In Krakow, the plight of the Syrian people was never far from the World Youth Day pilgrims. At the Field of Mercy, they heard testimony from 26-year-old Rand Mittri of Aleppo, who shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city “destroyed, ruined and broken.”
The situation in Syria also was recalled during the Way of the Cross July 29 at World Youth Day in Blonia Park in Krakow.
The first station — Jesus sentenced to death — related to sheltering the homeless and refugees who share in that same suffering through humanity’s indifference. A couple who fled Syria was among those who helped carry the cross.
Pope Francis, who had watched from the stage, began his address by welcoming the Syrian refugees “with fraternal affection and friendship.”
“By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times. Tonight, Jesus — and we with him — embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war,” he said.