‘We must not put obstacles in the path of the Merciful Father’, says Pope Francis. And he adds: ‘Instead we must pray for the gift of a strong faith, so that we can be signs and instruments of mercy.’

The ‘strong faith’ of these Christians from Qusair, near Homs is not in doubt. They are returning to their small, devastated town – and the first thing they want to do is rebuild the church of the Prophet Elijah. It was partially destroyed during the bitter fighting that led to the expulsion of the population.

Now the IS fighters have been expelled in their turn. The Christians want to return home: to a normal life; to the sound of the church bells; to children going to school; to shopping for their groceries. As little Zeina Kasoha says, ‘Now we‘re back home. I love our town, and I want to go back to school again here.’ And she asks us not to forget her, or the other children, so that they can continue their education and one day be there for others too.

Her faith has sustained her, as it has others. Now they want to bring life back to the ghost town of Qusair, starting with their church bells. The sound of the bells has great symbolic importance in the Middle East, It says: We are people of goodwill; this is a place of peace. Christians are a vital part of the religious mixture in the towns and villages of this region, a binding element… ‘We belong here’, says Father Louis, and he too has big plans.

By rebuilding the church with an adjoining suite of rooms, it could become a catechetical centre. At the same time the sisters will once again have a home, and a parish and community centre will be built.

In their desire for education and their zeal to spread the Gospel message by their peaceful presence, young Zeina, Father Louis and the other returning Christians in Qusair are like so many other Christians in Syria and Iraq. They long to be signs and instruments of mercy. Their hands may be empty, but there is the light of faith in their eyes – and the hope that we will stand by them in rebuilding their society.

This article can be found in Mirror 0816.