OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE
The Greek Melkite Cathedral – The Old City of Homs
Under the Byzantines, the city of Homs was an important centre of Eastern Christianity. Even today there are still many traces of this period, such as Al Nuri Mosque, which was St. John’s Church before the Muslims took it over. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace is a modern church located in the historical centre of Homs. It was sited in a walled compound which included the bishop’s house and a pastoral youth centre. Homs was the centre of severe conﬂict between Government and rebel forces.
Between April 2011 to May 2014, the cathedral compound was used as a headquarters for armed fighters, with the archbishop‘s house and the courtyard being turned into a field hospital. The Melkite Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach of Homs had to move to the nearby village of Zeidal.
The city of Homs was taken back by the Syrian army after an increasingly drawn out military struggle. On May 8, 2014, after over three years military occupation, there was the possibility of safe access to the cathedral for the first time. The Archbishop went into the demolished city and – not without difficulty – entered the compound. The cathedral and bishop’s house were deserted, ransacked and looted; the pastoral youth centre had been demolished. The cathedral had been seriously damaged by mortar shells and rocket fire: the roof had many huge holes ranging from 1 to 7 metres in diameter. The stained glass windows had been blown out. The walls had been damaged and the paintings singed and blackened with smoke. The icons were either stolen or defaced, the furnishings riddled with bullets and burnt. The tombs in the crypt had been destroyed; some of them had been opened and desecrated, the corpses scattered on the ﬂoor.
Barely 10 minutes after the archbishop’s delegation left, there was a huge explosion that further damaged the building. A bomb hidden inside the pulpit exploded. Had any of the party stayed inside the cathedral longer, it could have cost them their lives In the bishop’s house, rubble filled the hallways, the windows and doors had been smashed, walls damaged or destroyed, the furniture either stolen or burned, the roof bombed and the ecological solar energy installation burned. However, the operating theatre was well preserved and a large quantity of medicines were found. The courtyard was still full of beds and medical instruments. The youth centre had been damaged and blasphemous Islamic inscriptions had been daubed on the walls.
The Church ministered to the people in all circumstances, oﬀering them the Sacraments, both during the war and after. Archbishop Arbach said:
“The people are accustomed to suﬀering and, therefore, despite all the difficulties, they keep going.”
Children received their First Communion in the ruined cathedral in 2016. At the time of writing the exterior of the cathedral is close to completion and a lot of work has been carried out interior, including restored icons, ﬂooring and ceiling. However much more work needs to be done.
That said, the reconsecration of the altar on December 1, 2017 was a milestone on the road to recovery for the people of Homs, especially the Christian community.