On February 6, 2023, at 3:20 am, a terrible earthquake devastated the city of Aleppo, under torrential rains and freezing winds. People lay under rubble or in the streets without shelter. The screams, cries and moans of children tore through the silence of the night. The smell of death emanated from the destroyed houses. People cried or ran along the sidewalks in search of their relatives trapped under the rubble. Aleppo became a dead city in 40 seconds.
The President General International, Renato Lima de Oliveira, upon receiving the bad news, contacted me early in the morning to ask about the SSVP members, their families and the nursing home, and asked all Vincentians around the world to support and pray for them.
Driven by a feeling of empathy and aware of the crucial role of the Society in this time of crisis, the President of SSVP Aleppo, Joseph Ahmar Dakno, quickly published this message:
“My Vincentian sisters and brothers in Aleppo,
We thank God for his grace and mercy, for our survival of this natural catastrophe that has struck Aleppo.
At this moment, we are experiencing the catastrophic effects of a devastating geological phenomenon. Some people have lost their loved ones; may they be in heavenly arms. Others have lost their homes, their property, their cars, their businesses….
This is our mission and it is the will of the founder of the Society, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who never ceased to repeat that “the poor are our masters, and we are their servants”.
We appeal to all members to provide aid and relief to all victims of the earthquake.’’
Immediately, all collaborators and volunteers set out to serve, crossing roads blocked by debris and destroyed buildings to help the victims. A crisis unit was created and a swarm of young Vincentians roamed the streets, providing food, first aid and being sensitive to the reality of children, adults and families in shelters, tents and even on the streets.
Children terrified and traumatized by the earthquake were cared for by groups of Vincentians who organized dance sessions, songs and distributed crayons and drawing pads. They were also served a small snack.
I am sure that Frederic Ozanam would have been delighted to see these Vincentians “embracing the world in a network of charity”. The solidarity of all our members was remarkable and was very helpful at this disastrous time. Funds were sent from the Council General International, Lebanon, Jordan, the Holy Land and soon from France.
Despite the repeated earthquakes that continue to hit Aleppo and the overall dangerous situation, I decided to visit my brothers in Aleppo and bring them a message of international love.
My visit was a great moral support and comfort.
International Territorial Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa