“WE COME TO YOU ON THE WAVES”
Ecumenical Youth Days in Lattakia supported by Aid to the Church in Need
By Irmina Nockiewicz
Jesus walking on the water, one of the Bible’s best-loved stories was the theme of the ecumenical youth meeting in Lattakia, Syria. The weekend recollection for young Christians from Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and Tartous was intended to be a personal encounter with God characterized by prayer. Sister Samia told Christian Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Our retreat primarily seeked to renew the faith that may have long been practiced but not fully internalized, so as to experience personally God’s love.” The Church in Syria is on the same wavelength as the youth – one of the manifestations of her revival is the spontaneity of thought and of action.
Jesus walking on water is one of the Bible’s best-loved stories. Here is why it became a theme of the ecumenical youth gathering in Latakia. It’s easy to visualize the disciples struggling to get their small ship across the stormy See of Galilee. Their astonishment when Jesus comes to them, walking the waves as if the water was a Roman road is great.
This biblical parable was chosen to invite young Syrian Christians from Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and Tartous to welcome Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) 250 participants from different Churches had an opportunity to listen to the Good News. During Ecumenical Youth Days in Lattakia they could experience that they are not left alone with their struggle, for God cares for them. They were invited to deepen their faith and “walk on water” – possible only with Jesus.
It is hard to believe for a European used to freedom of movement, but most of the participants of the recollection have not left their home towns for many years if at all, because of the war dangers. During the battles, people were afraid to go out on the street, they could have been killed or injured and there was a threat of being kidnapped, as many Christians were and some of them never returned. The security situation in Syria is not yet stable, the roads are marked with checkpoints but even then, they dared to travel.
The changing landscape reflects the internal movement to come closer to Jesus. A recollection was intended to be a personal encounter with God characterized by meditation, silence, reflection and prayer. Sister Samia, who came with a group of youth from Homs, told ACN: “Our retreat primarily sought to renew the faith that may have long been practiced but not fully internalized, to experience personally God’s love. In the time of war and distress, our youth did not have any chance to go anywhere. We thank you for giving them such a wonderful opportunity. I am more than happy to bring them all to Jesus, as He has the power to overcome all kind of waves threatening with death. He is the Life”.
The key symbol during the recollection in Latakia was the sea, which represents all troubles and problems one can imagine and young Syrians don’t have to imagine, this is the reality of their daily life for the last eight years. Sister Samia said: “Our young people sail the ship of their lives into the turbulence of the war, death, poverty, unemployment and lack of perspectives. The waves represent overwhelming problems; the wind shows the lack of stability in their lives. They might feel alone with their situation and struggle. We encourage them with ACN’s help and I hope they will come back renewed and ready to carry on”
The main point of this youth meeting was a prayer vigil, similar to the one we might know from the World Youth Days. “During the prayer vigil at the seaside, the young people could experience Jesus coming to them bringing new hope. We are indeed “walking on the water” when we put this new hope into practice – explains Fr. Magdi SJ and continues – Jesus shows His love and goodness and brings salvation. At first, the disciples did not recognize Jesus walking on the water and they were afraid. This is a reaction of those, who are wounded and afraid of being even touched. I know it from my own pastoral experience; I clearly see the post-war trauma impact in many families – the Jesuit Father says. But Jesus reassures us, and Peter, reassured by Jesus’ invitation, dares himself to walk on the water. – highlights Fr Magdi – We encourage our youth to trust in Jesus, like Peter did. A strong moment, when they could express it, was the renewal of the baptismal promises followed by a baptism ceremony of the little girl, Grace Mariam, who is now also Christian and a member of the Church.”
While knowing how hard the reality in Syria is, especially for youth, sister Samia remains optimistic: “We can sympathize with Peter, who in the flush of amazement goes onto the water himself, only to be struck by fear. The same for youth, for a moment, buoyed by the belief in Jesus, it works, even in the hurly-burly of different inputs. Moreover, we need to remember that Peter’s confidence in Jesus failed, but Jesus does not let Peter down and saves his life from distress. This is the key point and a Good News: Jesus never fails us, so we can trust Him- concluded sister Samia.
“We come to You on the waves”, what a great joy and youth know how to express it. The liturgical ceremony was followed by the theatre and dances until late at night. Thanks to Aid to the Church in Need young Christians from Syria could learn that the Lord’s love is not restricted – it is for everyone, everywhere. They went back and walk on the water of the life.
Thanks to ACN benefactors, many young people had an opportunity to come closer to Jesus through multiple Church activities. The Church in Syria is on the same wavelength as the youth – one of the manifestations of her revival after the turmoil of war is the spontaneity of thought and of action. The Church in Syria is equal to her own best standards, always young and with the youth.
This summer, ACN supported in Syria retreats and spiritual summer camps for youth and families, children’s parish clubs, youth meetings and many other initiatives. ACN also launched: “The Good Samaritan trauma healing project” supporting the local Churches in helping suffering Syrians. Since the beginning of the war, which lasts for the eighth year now, Syria received from ACN benefactors more than 28 million euros. ACN hopes to determine further strategy and to break ground for the specialised humanitarian organisations, ACN hopes for Syrians.