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In Syria, Franciscan superior sees devastation, but also signs of hope


Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, walks past the rubble of a bombarded building in Aleppo, Syria, during an early April visit to Franciscan friars there. (CNS photo/courtesy of the Franciscan Generalate)

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ROME (CNS) -- Fifteen Franciscan friars continue to live and work in Syria; two of the friars minister in towns controlled by Islamic State forces.

Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, visited most of the friars the first week of April, but he could not enter areas controlled by Islamic State or by forces opposed to the government of President Bashar Assad.

He drove to Homs April 7, just hours after U.S. bombers attacked the nearby Shayrat air base in retaliation for the Syrian government's suspected use of chemical weapons.

"We didn't see anything, but we certainly sensed the tension," he told Catholic News Service in Rome April 12.

In Damascus, he said, he and the other friars could hear bombing "every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day" from one of the neighborhoods controlled by opposition forces. "This was constant, a constant reminder that nothing is settled; everything is still up in the air and people feel a great deal of insecurity."

The people just want it to stop, he said.

"We have two Franciscans who are caught (in territories) under ISIS control," he said. "They are living in two villages, 25 and 40 kilometers from Aleppo. They have been able to negotiate space and pay what is necessary" in order to stay and help the estimated 300 families remaining. The families are made up mostly of the elderly, children and "those who are too poor or too weak to find another place to go."

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