23 July 2019
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes the Rev. Ziad Hillal to CNEWA's New York offices.
We received a visit from an old friend this afternoon: the Rev. Ziad Hillal, S.J.
Readers may remember that Father Ziad wrote a Letter from Syria printed in ONE magazine in 2013, describing in vivid detail the humanitarian efforts of his Jesuit community, working (with support from CNEWA’s donors) to help Syria’s children who were trapped in the nightmare of the country’s civil war:
Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.
We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.
Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.
Father Ziad left Syria in 2016. His ministry since then has taken him to Greece — where he worked with the Jesuit Relief Services to help refugees — and to France, where he is now living and has published a book about his experiences.
His life has been touched by tragedy in many ways. One close colleague, the Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, S.J. was brutally killed in Homs in 2014; another, the Rev. Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped by ISIS and eventually released in November 2015. A third priest, the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, was kidnapped in 2013 and is still being held. His whereabouts are unknown.
Despite this, Father Ziad remains a figure of unflinching hope and zeal — and one who believes the greatest cause for his beleaguered and embattled homeland is the quest for peace.
“The message,” he said, ”is we have to stop the war in Syria. Immediately. To protect first the presence of our church and our people. The Christian people are the bridge between the West and the Middle East. We are also like a bridge between Sunnis and Shiites. And now if we lose our presence, I am afraid one day I will go to Syria, maybe my nieces or nephews will go there and say, our parents were in this church. It was our church but now we have nothing there. Only the stories. I am afraid for that.”
As he put it: “The only message for me is to stop the war in Syria and have the peace. If not, we will only lose again and again.”
You can watch a video we produced about his work below. Please keep him and all those working on behalf of victims of war and terror in your prayers.