For most of my childhood, I lived at the St. Mary’s Church in Homs. My father put my brother and me in the orphanage there when I was 6 because he couldn’t take care of us and because my mother was paralyzed. Every day I was in church. The bishop and the priest were with us every day and I liked it. The church became my mother.
I went on to become a monk and to serve in Brazil, but in 1998, I returned to Homs and became a bishop in 1999. Now I was the bishop helping to care for the orphans at the church and ministering with 20 priests in 30 churches, serving 15,000 families in Homs, Hama and surrounding villages.
Now the war has brought so many losses. The church and the orphanage have been destroyed. The 1,500 years of good relationships among religions has been shattered. People I counted on to support me and the church have betrayed us.
“I pray every day. I ask God, I plead with God to help me to see what to do.”
About 1,000 members have been killed and many families have moved away. Most can’t return because their houses were destroyed. Forty people from the church have been captured. We have searched for them. We have negotiated with both sides, but still we do not know what happened to them. In May my own brother was severely injured when a bomb exploded inside a church he was visiting. He died from his wounds in September.
I pray every day. I ask God, I plead with God to help me to see what to do. Jesus said come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Every day, I believe it. When I am tired, like today, I believe it. I tell people to pray for the organizations with me, like MCC and other groups, because the cross is heavy. Simon came to help Jesus with the cross. Now MCC and other organizations are coming to help us. One brings money, one brings food. With everyone, the cross is not as heavy.
Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh is bishop for the Syrian Orthodox Church in Homs and surrounding areas. MCC, through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, provides food to 1,000 families in this region. While the orphanage was destroyed, MCC’s Global Family education program helps fund schooling and other support for its children, who have been relocated to safer areas.