Principal's Blog - 4 June 2020

03 Jun 2020

Dear Members of the Marcellin College Family,

Celebrating the Legacy of St Marcellin Champagnat
Blue Marists of Aleppo

This week we celebrate as a Marist community the Feast Day of St. Marcellin Champagnat. These days are so important because they tell us a lot about who we are. The legacy of St Marcellin is significant, and we are a part of that legacy and have been for seventy years. While we are, and certainly should be, very proud of our own tradition as a Marist school, I think it is good for us to reflect from time to time on the fact that we are part of a much bigger story. The day on which we celebrate our Founder is such an occasion.

An example of Marist work outside of Australia which I found most inspiring when I first read about it in 2015 is in Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria. You would have no doubt read about or seen footage of the carnage which has been unfolding in Syria since March 2011 – over 250,000 deaths, tens of thousands of amputees and other serious injuries and the displacement of millions. Aleppo has borne the brunt of so much of the fighting and it is a city on its knees. The scenario seems one of hopelessness and yet, in the midst of the suffering, there are rays of sunshine and beams of hope.

The Marist Brothers have been present in Syria since 1904 when four Marist Brothers arrived in Aleppo to run a school for minority groups and the poor. Throughout history the people of Syria have ridden the violent waves of political instability and conflict that has more recently seen the country torn apart by war. For the past 116 years the Marists present in Syria have journeyed with the local people and have consistently remained at the service of the young and the poor. This has evolved over the past nine years to also include providing the basic necessities of food, medicine and shelter to those affected by the escalating conflict.

At the time of the first bombings and raids on the city, the Brothers decided to stay and organized a group of 30 volunteers (young people and adults called “Blue Marists” because of the t-shirt that distinguished them) to assist more than 2000 displaced people in 4 schools provided by the city authorities close to them.

All this time, Br. George Sabè fms, and the Marist volunteers, including Dr. Nabil Antaki, have multiplied the initiatives for the local population. They provide assistance with their basic needs, school support and training to give hope and create a climate of normality for many children and young people even in the midst of the conflict.

In a letter from Aleppo, published in the Marist News a few years ago, Dr Antaki, writing on behalf of the Blue Marists, articulated his answer to the question of why stay and work with the people in such awful conditions.

“The inhabitants of Aleppo who stay give us lessons of courage and reasons for hope. When we see them do any work to survive, send their children to school and to college despite the insecurity, leave each morning their home without any guarantee of not being hit by a bullet from a sniper on the street, stay home knowing that the next mortar may fall on their building, day by day, trusting only in themselves and in God … Yes, when you see their courage and resilience, it silences our unanswered questions and encourages us to continue.”

With regard to humanitarian aid, the Blue Marists have provided assistance to thousands of displaced families through the distribution of food, hygiene products, clothes and shoes. They supported the medical care for the people who could not be assisted in the overcrowded hospitals and paid the rent for the people who had lost their dwelling. They have distributed powder milk for new-borns and children every month.  In socio educational activities, programs were organized for the school to support children and young people, adult literacy courses, vocational training, life skills courses, social promotion activities, training for vulnerable women, and language courses.

Following the invasion of North-western Syria by the Turkish army that caused the escape of 100.000 people from their homes, the Blue Marists started a project in Shabba camp, 30 km west of Aleppo for 110 displaced families. The Shabba camp project started in April 2018 and it is still ongoing.

The people of Aleppo and those who work with them, including the Blue Marists, need our prayers and our support. As part of the worldwide Marist network, it is good to have an awareness of these other works and where possible, encourage and support our fellow Marists in providing for those desperately in need. If you are interested in reading more about the Blue Marists in Aleppo you can access information here

John Hickey