“Thanks to the support of ACN International, we don’t feel alone.”
The Houdaib family is an extended family, like so many other families in Syria. Evon is the mother and grandmother of the tribe. At the age of 80 she is still the head of the family, and especially now, since her husband George died of heart problems a few years ago. “We have 11 children, all of them still alive, thanks be to God. I know that this is somewhat unusual given the times we are living through in Syria today. Many families have lost children, parents, brothers or sisters.”
The family welcomes a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to their recently refurbished house in order to share with them their joy in returning to the family home. The Houdaibs had lived in this house since they were newlyweds. But in 2012, during one of the worst bombardments to hit the city, part of the roof came down, blocking the entrance to the house. The family home is on the ground floor of a block of flats in the Al Hameedye quarter, close to the historic centre of Homs. Until recently, in order to get to their home, you had to climb over a series of rubble barriers blocking the streets, barricades built during the fighting.
Today all this rubble has been cleared away from the streets, and although access is still difficult for vehicles, it is possible to come and go on foot with a degree of normality. Standing out among the buildings nearby is the Haiyar Palace, once one of the architectural jewels of Homs. People in the neighbourhood have put up some images of the Way of the Cross as well asa large cross in front of the building, which is surrounded by ruins. “Formerly this was a mainly Christian area, and we want to preserve this atmosphere, even though many of our neighbours still haven’t returned”, says Marwan, Evon’s eldest son.
Marwan expresses his thanks for the support of the local Church which, with financial help from ACN, has funded the repair work on his mother’s house. “We still rely on help, because we don’t have the money for medicines or to pay for an operation that my sister has to undergo. The fighting has moved on northwards from Homs, towards the Idlib region, but now we suffer from an enormous economic crisis- There is no work and the power cuts still occur.”
The local Church gave 500,000 Syrian pounds – or 1,500 Euros – to the Houdaib family. “It may not seem like much money in other countries, but here it’s a small fortune today. Of course we know that people outside Syria are helping us in a spirit of disinterested generosity. I don’t know how to thank them, we no longer feel alone, thanks to them”, says Ragaa, one of Evon’s daughters.
There are a number of grandchildren belonging to the third generation also gathered in the house,. Among them are Wael, aged 20, who works as a delivery man in a restaurant, and Joudi, 13, who is still at school and wants to go on and study pharmacy in the footsteps of her aunt Ragaa. They tell us that the most difficult thing to bear in these last few years was having to flee from one place to another, and suffer separation from their cousins and friends.
“Yes, it has been a great trial”, Evon confesses. “We had to go from here to Feiruzy, a small town on the outskirts of Homs, then from there to Hanessa, another place just outside the city. Then in 2016, after Homs was liberated, we returned here, but we couldn’t come back to the apartment until a few months ago, and that was thanks to the help of ACN.”
Despite the fact that many Syrians were forced to flee, some even abroad, the Houdaib family tried hard to remain united, and now they are very happy to be back together again. “The reason why we wanted to come back to our former home was to fulfil the wishes of our father George”, Marwan tells us. Evon nods in agreement, goes out of the room and returns with a photograph of her husband. “I’m so sorry that my husband was not able to see this house rebuilt; it was his great dream”, Evon adds.
Marwan now works as a driver for the archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the seat of which is the church of Saint Mary of the Holy Belt. This church is built over an ancient crypt which was a place of prayer for Christians dating back to the year 50 A.D. According to tradition, this church contains a belt once belonging to the Virgin Mary and given by her to Saint Thomas the Apostle upon her Assumption into heaven. It is a relic kept with great devotion and bears witness to the profound Christian roots of Syria. The Houdaib family is one of the many who come to this place to ask Our Lady’s protection and for peace in their country. “We have lost everything, but we have not lost our faith. We remain united, we go to church and celebrate Mass together. That is where we draw the strength that we need”, Evon tells us.