The Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem said Saturday that he’s pleased the war in Aleppo is over, as now Christians can celebrate Christmas without fear for the first time.
Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve to celebrate mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the site where Jesus was born.
While in Bethlehem, Pizzaballa said he was pleased the war in Aleppo was over, since it provides Christians an opportunity to celebrate Christmas and rebuild the city, The Associated Press reports.
“I wish this joyous atmosphere of Christmas will continue in the year and not just for a few days and I hope the coming year will bring a little more serenity and peaceful relations in our country. We need it,” Pizzaballa said.
“I am happy that the war, at least the military war, in Aleppo is finished and that for the first time in Aleppo the Christians can celebrate without fear the Christmas season. I wish that they can now reconstruct, rebuild the city, not only the infrastructure but also the common relations that was a tradition over there,” he added.
In Aleppo, attendance at mass surged through the Christmas season, as parishioners had no fear of being the targets of rebel missiles. Christians celebrated by a Christmas tree in Azizya, where the tree had not been lit for four years.
Syrian government forces seized control of previously rebel-held parts of Aleppo in mid-December and announced an end to the fighting. Aleppo has been split between rebels and forces loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2012. Christian leaders by and large have supported Assad, despite rampant opposition from the West, as Sunni extremists, often termed “moderate rebels” by the Obama administration, have no ethical compunctions about slaughtering Christians and burning down churches.
Given that Russia has renewed its role as protector of the faith in the region and stepped in to back Assad against groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaida affiliates and other rebel groups, church leaders believe that siding with Damascus is by far their best shot at survival.
Since the beginning of the war, the number of Christians in Aleppo plummeted from 250,000 to a mere 50,000.
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