Worshippers Cram Into Cathedral that Was Almost Destroyed by Rocket Fire For Its First December 25 Mass in Five Years; Bashar al-Assad and his Wife Meet Orphans at a Christian Convent
Christians in Syria‘s Aleppo took part in Christmas services after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces retook full control of the ruined former economic hub.
The Old City’s Saint Elias Cathedral, its roof collapsed under rocket fire, hosted its first Christmas mass in five years.
More than 4,000 fighters recently left rebel-held areas of Aleppo in the ‘last stages’ of an evacuation clearing the way for Syria’s army to retake the city.
A week into the rebel withdrawal from the east of Syria’s second city, the evacuation of fighters and civilians from the one-time opposition stronghold appeared to be reaching its final hours.
The loss of east Aleppo marks the biggest defeat for Syria’s rebellion in more than five years of civil war and a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who on Christmas Day was pictured meeting orphans at a convent.
And in Bartalla, near the Iraqi city of Mosul, Christians filled the pews of the fire-scarred Mar Shimoni church for the first service since the town was retaken from ISIS jihadists who had seized it in 2014.
The predominantly Christian towns of Bartella and Qaraqosh on the outskirts of Mosul were recently liberated as part of the Mosul offensive.
It comes after Pope Francis wished peace and hope for all those scarred by war and terrorism during his Christmas address.
Some 40,000 tourists and Romans calmly endured long security lines to enter St. Peter’s Square to see the pope on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he delivered the traditional Christmas message and blessing.
Francis spoke sorrowfully of the suffering caused by the Syrian war, especially in Aleppo, pressing the international community to help negotiate a solution.