Five years after the death of Frans van der Lugt sj, four Jesuits live in Homs again. What do they do there? And how are the other six Jesuits active in Syria? Homs is the city where Father Frans van der Lugt sj was murdered on 7 April 2014. A few days after Father Frans's murder, the people who were locked up in the city were able to leave the besieged district under the guidance of the United Nations.  The streets around the Jesuit house are still badly damaged, although there is no fighting anymore. In 'his house' in the old town - Boustan al Diwan - where Father Frans is buried, he was alone at the last minute. Now there are four Jesuits living here again. Father Paul Diab is the parish priest of the church. Not far from there, in Nouzha, are a church and a catechesis centre, once built by the Dutch Jesuit Father Michael Brenninkmeijer.  In Nouzha there is little war damage, the church and the catechesis house are widely used by hundreds of adults and children. Here flourishes a large group "Foi et Lunière" where disabled young people are included. In Nouhza are homework classes and other activities with children. Father Magdi, an Egyptian Jesuit, is the priest in Nouzha and works for the Jesuit Refugee Service. The community is also home to Brother Michel (73) and a young Polish priest Andrzej who offered to help build Syria. Next to the church in the old town are two school buildings that used to belong to the Jesuits. One is completely broken, the other is slightly damaged: at this moment only the playground is used by playing children. Al Ard Al Ard is the centre that Father Frans founded outside the city of Homs. There was a vineyard and a farm where wine was made. In Al Ard people with intellectual disabilities were taken care of. Father Frans gave youth retreats and psychotherapy. Al Ard suffered badly from the war: the vineyards were damaged, the winery was destroyed; everything made of metal was demolished and sold as scrap. At the moment it is still too dangerous to think of reconstruction and staying the night is certainly not an option. Carefully agriculture and horticulture are being restarted. The Jesuit Order is prepared to invest in reconstruction, but not yet.  Jesuit Refugee Service - where the need is greatest The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), works in various countries in the Middle East: mainly in Lebanon and Iraq, and also in Jordan and Syria. In recent years JRS has provided much emergency aid: food and shelter. Last September the soup kitchen was stopped in Aleppo; when the need was greatest, 17,000 meals a day were made there. In the last year the emphasis has shifted to what is traditionally the strong side of JRS: education and psychosocial assistance.  In Syria JRS is active in medical care. Two small hospitals in Aleppo are run by JRS, including internal medicine, gynaecology and paediatrics. JRS also finances the laboratories, quite a few medicines and sometimes operations. In Syria a total of 240 people work for JRS, including three Jesuits. Many of these people have themselves been displaced and driven from their homes and land. More than 300 women and 800 children take part in activities in different cities: courses to learn a trade, psychological groups for trauma processing, self-help and other lessons.   Damascus - help and dialogue Two Jesuits in Damascus work for the JRS: Father Fouad comes from the region itself and Father Goncalo from Portugal. The third priest, Father Rami, was responsible for religious education, and he helped war victims who needed a new prosthesis. He also did a lot of counseling - he was trained as a psychoanalyst. In Damascus, a new centre was built that will have two focal points: education, especially for refugees, and interreligious dialogue: meetings between Christians, Druze, Alawites, and Muslims. Hopefully the building will be ready by 2020. Aleppo - training and community building  Two Jesuit priests are currently in Aleppo: Father Sami, who remained in his post throughout the war, and Father Alvaro from Mexico, who has just arrived. Like the above mentioned Fathers from Poland and Portugal, the latter responded to a call for volunteers for Syria made by Father General one and a half years ago. Father Sami has done a lot for students in recent years: he set up study places - "study zones" - where students can quietly study together with electricity, heating, WiFi and a printer. These are things that few young people have in the places where they live and survived. There are also tutoring and computer courses and he helps people to apply for jobs.  Antoine Audo sj, bishop of Aleppo for the Chaldean Christian, also lives and works in Aleppo. From 2011 to 2017 Bishop Audo chaired Caritas Syria which, thanks to the support of Caritas Internationalis' network plays an important role in humanitarian aid, particularly in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo. Caritas Syria has eight departments spread throughout the country to provide aid. Finally, there is the Midan centre in Aleppo. It started a century ago as a neighbourhood centre for Armenians. Ten years ago refugees were received from Iraq. In the recent war the centre was badly damaged. One part was demolished, another part was repaired, and the sports field will soon open again with new artificial grass. In the coming years, the building will mainly be used by JRS for education and community building. What will happen to Midan in the long term is still open.  So in 2019 there are ten Jesuits in Syria: three in Damascus, four in Homs and three in Aleppo. The number of employees is in the hundreds.  This video was made by the JRS in 2014:
From the 30th January to the 3rd February a meeting was held in Lebanon for recently ordained priests of the Province. On each day talks were given by various speakers touching  topics such as child abuse, the sexual life of the consecrated person as seen by a psychotherapist, and also confession. There were also times for sharing in groups. On the second day, various practical points were discussed, such as ordination and the preparation for its celebration. A good part of the third day was spent in sharing in small groups. A lay-person, Sandra Chaoul, came to give a talk about formation in Ignatian leadership. Among other things, she spoke about a formation session on communal discernment and apostolic planning. Next another lay-person, Hyam Abou Shedide, a journalist, spoke about the media and the fact that they touch the three fundamental centres of the human person: intellect, heart and instinct. The afternoon was dedicated to an outing and during the Mass the young priests renewed their vows. The participants appreciated the exchanges among themselves and with the animators. The spirit throughout was pleasant and brotherly.
On the 17th November 2018, four novices of the Near East and Maghreb Province, who finished their second year, and are now doing their Juniorate in Beirut, pronounced their first vows. These were Oussama Halim, Houssam Suleyman and Michael Ghobrial from Egypt and Mike Kassis from Syria. Fr. Dany Younes, the Provincial, presided the Mass assisted by Fr. Mourad Abou Seif who is the Master of Novices and Fr. Roney Gemayel, their present Superior, and a number of other Jesuits priests. The Mass was celebrated in the church of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayedet el Najat) at noon. During the homily, Fr. Dany spoke of four main points: a) our vows express our gratitude towards God the Father and Jesus Christ; b) beware of the grace you ask for, because if you ask for love of neighbor, you know the price of love, and if you ask to follow Christ you know where this will lead you, definitely to the Cross; love costs and glory is the ability to strive hard with joy. After the Mass, Fr. Roney Gemayel presented them with a cross. Then those presented we invited to a festive lunch. In the meantime, two other Novices, are doing their second year long experiment in Aleppo and Damascus.
After the ordination of two new priests in Lebanon during the months of June and July, it was Egypt’s turn. On the 31st of July, in the church of the College of the Holy Family, Mario Boulos was ordained a deacon by His Beatitude the Coptic Catholic Patriarch, Mgr. Ibrahim Ishaq. Then on the 23rd August, it was the turn of Fr. Joseph Nabil to be ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Assyut by Mgr. Kyrillos William, bishop of the diocese of Assyut, assisted by Fr. Provincial, Fr. Dany Younes SJ and a good number of Jesuits and diocesan priests. The cathedral was full of faithful who came expressly to celebrate their gratitude to Fr. Joseph who as a young layman had served for a number of years in the diocese and was greatly appreciated by all. His friends and ex-collaborators helped organise the ceremony and the festive dinner that followed the ordination. Two days later, Fr. Youssef Abdel Nour was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of the city of Minia, again in the south of Egypt, with the imposition of the hands of Mgr. Boutros Fahim, bishop of Minia, again assisted by Fr. Provincial and many Jesuits and diocesan priests. Some Jesuits came from Lebanon and France to assist at the two ordinations. This ordination too was followed by a festive dinner in the cathedral hall. Hungary On 25th of August was the priestly ordination of László Elek SJ in Miskolc.
Four Jesuits from four countries in Lebanon Impressive celebration in the Church of our Lady of Deliverance, in Bikfaya, Lebanon on Sunday, 24th June. Frs. Alexis Doucet from France and working in Ankara, Turkey, Ghassan Sahoui, from Syria, finishing his doctoral thesis at the Oriental Pontifical Institute in Rome, and taking care of the our Marian sanctuary in Taanayel, in Lebanon, Ronney Gemayel, from Lebanon, rector of our scholasticate and director of the CERPOC in our university in Beirut, and Zeljko Pasha, from Croatia, who teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, made their solemn profession in front of the Provincial, Fr. Danny Younes. Most of the Jesuits in Lebanon were present, together with some Jesuits from Egypt and Syria, and the Provincial of Croatia and the rector of the Oriental Institute in Rome. The ceremony, which took place at 4 pm was followed by a cocktail for all those present, and later in the evening by a festive supper on the terrace of our Jesuit residence in Bikfaya, for all the Jesuits and members of the family of Alexis Doucet, who had arrived from France for the occasion, and Ronney Gemayel. The supper on the terrace allowed us to enjoy the fresh air and the beautiful panorama from the mountain, plus a splendid sunset over the sea. From left to right you have Fr. Ronney Gemayel, Fr. Ghassan Sahoui, Fr. Dany Younes (Provincial), Fr. Alexis Doucet and Fr. Zeljko Pasha   Three French fellow Jesuits in the St.Ignace Church in Paris On May 21, Pentecost Monday, the Saint-Ignace church in Paris was once again celebrating! It is not one, but three companions who took their last vows together.   Guilhem Causse (Paris-Blomet) is professor of philosophy at the Centre Sèvres. L’Arbre du Pèlerin (The Pilgrim Tree) is the title of the novel that Guilhem has just published. Jacques Enjalbert (Paris-Assas) is chaplain of Political Sciences and of the Christian network of the “Grandes Ecoles” in Ile de France. Xavier Roger (Vanves) is currently national chaplain of the “Mouvement Eucharistique des Jeunes” in France.    Coming back from Amazonian Guyana to Britain Please remember in your prayers Fr James Conway SJ who professed his Final Vows at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm St, on Friday 8th June - feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Final vows are traditionally made on a feast of particular significance to Jesuits. Devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus was originally championed by the Jesuit Saint Claude La Colombiere. In his homily, principal celebrant Fr Provincial Damian Howard SJ focused on the call to transformation invoked by the Sacred Heart: “the Divine Heart astonishes us by not only calling us to join Him in the outreach of His loving but enabling us to do so. To bear the embrace of mercy to others. To host His love in our freshly humbled hearts, now made supple and real and strong. In all humility, we set out at last as active participants in the love that changed our lives.” Fr Damian reminded the congregation that Christ’s Passion and the agony in the garden of Gethsemene is central to the original call to the Sacred Heart and commented on the fitness of the feast for Fr James’s final vows of dedication: “It is entirely suitable that we are surrounded by a spiritual impulse which welled up in the groves of Gethsemane as we celebrate an act of definitive self-offering to Christ and His People. Jim has done his fair share of wrestling with God’s will over the last twenty-four years…. But in a few minutes’ time, he will kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and pronounce his final “yes” to the Lord. And it’s good that we are all here to celebrate that because it is a real victory, and just as we are called to share in the Lord’s agony, so we are invited to participate in His glory, in a modest way, even in the here and now” Read more
With the end of February, the second year Novices ended their long experiment and returned to the novitiate in Shubra, Egypt. The three Egyptian novice travelled to Jordan (Michael), Lebanon (Usama), and Syria (Hussam), while Mike, the Syrian novice, had his experience at the Petit Collège (primary school) in Cairo. They had various experiences of working with refugees, giving religion classes in our schools and doing various other pastoral works. All four came back enthusiastic about their experience and very grateful for the hospitality and support of the communities they were living with. Meantime the first year novices had the thirty day Spiritual Exercises from the 7th of February to the 7th of March in a retreat house in small village south of Luxor. At the end of the retreat, the whole novitiate community, except Fr. Oliver, who was held back by teaching commitments in the Patriarchal Coptic Seminary and joined later, met in Luxor and from there proceeded to Aswan to spend 5 days together enjoying a well-earned rest and the pleasure of reuniting. Unfortunately, we were missing two members, a first year and a second year novice, who are in Lebanon undergoing some medical treatment. The time in Aswan was a time to visit some of the most beautiful Egyptian monuments from the times of the pharaohs, and the famous Aswan High Dam, as well as to meet people from the Catholic community in the city. We stayed in a small guesthouse run by a Nubian family and built in the typical Nubian architectural style. At the end of the five days, it was time to start the long journey back, with a stopover in Luxor for the night. We left Luxor at 4 pm and arrived in Cairo at 4 am after a quite eventful journey. Now the novitiate formation programme is back in full swing, with the 1st year going deeper into the book of the Spiritual Exercises and their experience of it.