News 10 Dec 2020

Syria: Mons. Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh was a fighter for hope

The death of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Homs.

“A man who has suffered with his people and for his people.” This is the way Regina Lynch, project director of Aid to the Church in Need  (ACN), remembers Mgr. Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Homs, who died Monday night, December 7, in Damascus after a short, serious illness.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephraim II, to the bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church and to all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Homs, Hama, Tartous for this enormous loss.”

Upon ACN visits to Homs during the hardest periods of the war, the archbishop recounted: “I was raised an orphan, the Church was my mother. Now all of us in Syria feel like orphans.” His short life, which ended at age 52, was often accompanied by suffering, however, he transformed it into a paternal dedication, carrying out numerous projects in favour of the orphans and poorest families of the diocese, even at the height of the war. Another great concern of the archbishop were his priests, tireless pastors, but without any resources or means in a country devastated and mired in poverty. 

He witnessed the destruction of Homs and the atrocities and persecution perpetrated by jihadists in different towns and Christian communities in the surrounding area. Of note was the massacre of 45 Christians in October 2013 in Sadad, the archbishop’s city of birth and now his final resting place. In May 2014, his brother was injured by a bomb that blew up the Homs Cathedral. He died of his injuries in September. 

Despite these heavy burdens, the metropolitan never stopped sowing hope. With the help of ACN, Bishop Selwanos promoted a number of projects to encourage and inspire strength within the Christian community. One such initiative was the “Street of Hope” project where the children of the Old Town of Homs painted graffiti on the walls of the ruined houses, signifying that the Christians wanted to stay and rebuild that part of the town, totally destroyed by bombs during the war. Likewise, he was one of the first to promote the reconstruction of houses for those Christians who returned after the ceasefire and requesting scholarships for schoolchildren and students so that they could continue their studies as soon as possible. He opened a nursery in Hama called “Hope of Life.”

His contribution and dedication in raising international awareness for the terrible situation were immense. For example, in 2016 he travelled with ACN to Geneva and Brussels to describe the reality they were living and to denounce the international negligence in the face of the disappearance of the Christian presence in Syria, due to persecution and the consequent emigration. 

“It has been more than seven years of close collaboration and almost 40 projects that we have been able to carry out thanks to the commitment and dedication of Bishop Selwanos during years of terrible suffering and war,” states Ms Lynch. It is difficult to summarize all that work in a few words, but he was undoubtedly a pillar, a pillar of resistance against hopelessness and a fighter to save his people. He also was a true example of ecumenism. It is a great loss.”

Featured Image: Mons. Selwanos Alnemeh. Photographer: Josué Villalón. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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