The restored Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah in Aleppo, Syria. (Aid to the Church in Need via CNA)
A Catholic cathedral that was repeatedly struck by missiles amid the Syrian civil war was due to reopen Monday following its restoration.
The Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah in Aleppo was bombarded with missiles on at least three occasions between 2012 and 2016, and suffered extensive damage when jihadists entered the Christian quarter of Al-Jdayde in 2013.
The restoration was financed largely by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
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, he said: “ACN has been with you throughout the most difficult times, and it would have been wonderful if we had been able to celebrate together today. Sadly, the circumstances do not permit this; however, we see the Cathedral of St. Elijah and it is a miracle.”
“It is wonderful to see it shining with its former splendor. I hope that it will once again become the center of the whole Christian community, just as it was before this terrible 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 Archbishop Joseph Tobij of Aleppo said that the cathedral’s restoration had both a symbolic and practical significance.
“In the symbolic sense it is a message to the parishioners and Christians in Aleppo and the world that we are still in this country despite our dwindling numbers, and the restoration of the cathedral is proof of this. The mouths must continue to praise God in this place despite all the difficulties,” he said in an interview with ACN.
The cathedral, which has distinctive twin bell towers and a dome, was originally built in 1873, on the site of a small 15th-century church. It was renovated in 1914.
It lay abandoned between 2012 and 2016 as war raged around it. After the rebels were driven out of the area, the cathedral reopened its doors to worshipers at Christmas in 2016, even though it lay in ruins.
“We decided to send a message of hope that the Son of God was incarnate and He is still with us, accompanying us in our sorrows and pains, and carrying them with us, so that they transform into a life of hope, faith, love and thus a life of holiness,” Tobji said.
“The moment during the Mass when the Child Jesus was placed in the manger made of the ruins of the collapsed roof was very touching, as I, with the people attending the service, were crying and laughing at the same time, and everyone was clapping and cheering with joy.”