In Aleppo, Syria, a teenager drew on his faith to make it through the darkest days of the civil war

Piter Essa, 17, graduated from High School in Aleppo, Syria, this spring. Piter, who is Syriac Orthodox, recounts to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) some of his painful experiences of the fighting of the past eight years:

“I’ve survived this awful war, and I live my life like I used to. My school didn’t close at all, so I was able to continue with my studies; I graduated from High School this year.

“I was separated from many friends who were forced to flee. I personally experienced violence in the forms of mortars and missiles, which did physical and psychological damage. I tried to remain strong for my loved ones: I had their backs, and I told them that everything would be okay, but I didn’t fully believe that myself.

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Piter Essa, 17, graduated from High School in Aleppo, Syria, this spring.
Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

“I want to mention an incident, one of many similar incidents happened during the war: one day, I was helping my dad with the groceries, and we were walking and chatting in peace until a huge cloud of fire appeared in front of me. It was a mortar explosion. I heard nothing but screaming babies and a sharp whistle; I saw nothing but bodies, and there was blood everywhere. My father and I ran without looking back and only stopped when we reached a safe zone.

“In that moment, I wasn’t angry or sad. I was terrified. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, except in movies. It was horrible, and it stays with me even now. Sometimes I dream about that day—the innocent people being killed for nothing, absolutely nothing.

“Our saddest moment came when we had to leave our home. There were too many mortars falling around us, and we could not continue to risk our lives. So we moved to another area.

“Prayers helped keep me going, as did my family’s support; they provided for me and allowed me to live a ‘teenage’ life. My hobbies also distracted me from the violence: I listened to music all the time, as it offered an escape from what we were facing outside. And I wore a cross around my neck to remind me that, even when I felt lost, I was not alone.

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“Today, I am feeling safe again. There’s been no mortars, missiles, explosions, or screaming, and my community is thriving. I’ve found true friends who understand and accept me as I am, and my family’s faith has endured. I love my country and its history. I feel connected to it.

“I plan to study abroad and become specialized in the area of Artificial Intelligence. I will return to Syria after. For me, the internet is an important communication tool: I use it every day, and I can see how other countries are reacting to our crisis. In my opinion, there are few countries that seriously care about us; many others only pretend to. I feel that most people aren’t responding.

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Icon of the Virgin with the Child in the main nave of the Holy Belt Church of Saint Mary, seat of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Homs. The icon has been damaged by artillery during the siege in Homs (Syria). 
Credit: © Ismael Martínez Sánchez / ACN. 

“But I still have faith, and that was all that we had to survive. And I dream that one day, we will all be able to live in our country in lasting peace.”

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Syria - Aleppo - destroyed building in front of the Citadelle. Photographer: Pierre Macqueron
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

by Jony Azar.

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