WINDSOR TERRACE — A badly damaged Catholic cathedral has resurrected after at least three missile attacks amid the Syrian civil war. The Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah in Aleppo reopened July 20 following years of restoration when the church was bombed by jihadists in 2013.
The restoration was financed largely by the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). A report from ACN stated that Christianity was disappearing from towns and cities in parts of the Middle East.
In a video message, Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN International, described the reopening as a miracle. Explaining that he was unable to attend the reopening due to the coronavirus pandemic, Heine-Geldern said: “it’s fantastic that it shines in the old splendor and I wish that it became again the center of the whole Christian community as it was ages before until this dreadful war.”
ACN estimates that only 30,000 Christians remain in the city, compared to a pre-war population of 180,000. Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city before the war, but now is the second largest after the capital, Damascus.
Maronite Archparch Joseph Tobij of the Maronite Catholic Archeparchy of Aleppo said the restoration and reopening of the cathedral have both symbolic and practical meaning.
“It’s a sign of hope and rebirth,” Archparch Tobij said, “not only in a material sense but for the entire community, despite the fact that the numbers of Christians continue to dwindle, due to extreme poverty linked to the sanctions imposed on the defenseless population.”
He explained that the main difficulties in the restoration process besides raising funds was the reconstruction of the original wooden roof. The archbishop said that local artisans lacked in their expertise with that particular craft, which paved the way for a group of Italian architects to complete the roof project.
“Without the help of ACN and the generosity of our benefactors, we would not have been able to pray again and spread hope in the hearts of the faithful through the reconstruction of the cathedral,” Archparch Tobij said.
For at least eight years, no liturgies or celebrations took place in the cathedral due to the aftermath of the attacks. The cathedral was originally built in 1873 on the site of a small 15th-century church. It was renovated in 1914.
“It is a way to tell the people in Aleppo, in Syria and the world, that we still exist,” Archparch Tobij said. “We still exist despite the great decline in the number of our Christians.”