Syria: Destruction, displacement and distress – but hope remains
A graphic account of the deepening human suffering and violence in Syria has come from a priest ministering to people in one of the areas worst affected by the conflict.
In a report describing the devastated city of Homs and the surrounding area, the priest details his desperate struggle to provide basic food, shelter and medicine to more than 30,000 people fleeing violence amid ongoing bomb blasts and other violence.
The priest, who cannot be named for security reasons, explains how the people are being helped at a centre funded by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, to whom he sent his report.
He goes on to give an account of the "many explosions" of the past week in his quarter of Homs, one of which took place very near to his church.
The car bomb left 11 people dead, of whom five were his parishioners.
An earlier explosion caused the death of a 10-year-old boy from the Catholic community centre next to his church. Three other children were injured.
In his report, the priest pays tribute to a Jesuit priest and 74 other Christians living in a "siege [–like] manner" in Homs' ancient Old City, where many historic churches, mosques and other buildings lie in ruins after fierce fighting.
Facing a shortage of food and medicine, the Jesuit and his flock rely on aid parcels being sent to them.
Describing life for the Jesuit and his people, the priest writes that people continue to cling to hope in spite of the difficulties.
He said: "We have a great hope. Churches still ring bells for prayers and all people come and share Mass."
Quoting Pope Francis, he writes: "Nobody can steal our hope and joyfulness."
The priest reported an upsurge in demand at his centre, saying people had been hit hard by massive increases in rent charges, food prices and other essentials.
The report comes shortly after ACN agreed an aid package of £25,450 (€30,000) for the centre on top of £42,450 (€50,000) given last year.
In his message to ACN the priest writes: "Great thanks for your support and help."
He adds: "In our centre, we began our work with 1,000 families and the numbers grew and grew.
"Almost all the people need help… People need food, rent money and medicine so it requires a lot of money and work."
With increased demand on the centre, the priest reported that two Christian villages near Homs with a combined population of nearly 1,000 people, now lie abandoned after everybody fled.
Referring to a third Christian village abandoned a year ago, he stated that people recently returned to find their homes either destroyed or requisitioned with no hope of getting them back.
"The situation is disastrous," he writes.
ACN is prioritising emergency help for Syria with reports stating that 4 million are displaced within the country and 1.5 million have fled abroad to Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere. Up to 100,000 are thought to have been killed in Syria.
The charity is appealing for funds and for prayers both for those in need of urgent help and those giving it.