Awareness Foundation

After the great success of our initial Leadership Training Programme in Lattakia, Syria, in October 2014, Eid’b’eid (or ‘Hand in Hand’, the local ecumenical youth group) and the Awareness Foundation quickly began making plans for a follow-up weekend this May. This weekend would include many of the young people who came to the first event, plus a number of new invitees. I met Eid b’Eid for several planning meetings, and at the end we met local church leaders to tell them about our plans, and to get their blessing. Again, we were fortunate that people from all denominations wanted to take part!

(left, with Eid b’Eid; centre, meeting with Father Habib Danial and Father Atef Fallah, priests from the Maronite and Latin Churches; right, meeting HE Archbishop Nicholas Sawaf of the Melikite Church and The Revd Salam Hanna, priest of the National Evangelical [Presbyterian] Church)

The theme for this weekend was John 16:33: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

After our programme began last year, our young participants have been busy working in their own communities to build better ecumenical relations and to encourage understanding and renewed trust between the faiths. Over two days, these people would come to St. Richa Maronite Church, near the University in Lattakia, to unburden themselves, to heal and to discover new practical ways to use their own talents as “Ambassadors of Peace”.

We began on Friday 8th May (don’t forget that the weekend begins on the Friday in the Middle East!) with a gathering to welcome our participants, followed by morning prayer. Around 85 young Christian men and women arrived. We were so inspired by their commitment and their determination to take part; even though this was the weekend, many had taken time off work or university to be with us. One of the first steps was to allow the young people to talk about what had been happening since we had met with them seven months ago; they expressed anger at the limitations of living in a society at war with itself.

The weekend included four lectures on ‘Peace in Christ’, ‘Facing Persecution’, ‘How Christ conquered the World’, and ‘How can we be ambassadors for peace?’. The two speakers were The Revd Nadim Nassar, Director of the Awareness Foundation, and Father Amer Kassar, Syrian Catholic Church in Katana, near Damascus; both had been speakers in our main event in October. The lectures addressed the participants’ concerns and this helped to release them from many of their stresses and fears. Father Amer and Father Nadim gave them new hope and new meaning to their lives.

(left, some of the participants; centre, Father Amer Kassar; right, The Revd Nadim Nassar)

The young people were divided into six groups, depending on their talents; the groups were Sport, Art, Handicraft, Music, Drama and Writing. Each of the groups was assigned a Mentor, drawn from Eid b’Eid, and an appropriate expert. For instance, the music group was joined by a young professional composer/pianist. The groups were asked to use their talents to express or promote the peace of Christ to their own community and to the world around them. At the end of the two days, the groups would perform their work for everyone who participated.

(clockwise, from top left: Arts, Sports, Drama, Music, Writing and Handicraft)

The six groups worked very hard on their projects, and the results were outstanding.

  • The Art Group painted a series of 6 pictures that reflected their feelings and their understanding of the ‘path to peace’. One of the pictures, the Volcano of Creativity, symbolised the turning of anger into positive energy!

  • The Sports Group staged a ‘mini-Olympics’ to demonstrate how sport can bring people together.

  • The Dramatists wrote and staged a 15-minute play on the hardships of emigration that stressed the joys of integration and diversity at home, and encouraged everyone to work together to build their country. Each one of the Writers wrote a poem and read it out; their poetry reflected eloquently on peace and hope.

  • The Crafts Group produced a colourful scuplture depicting the twin doves – of peace and the Holy Spirit – leading Syria to safety.

  • The Musicians wrote and performed a very moving song, “Hand in Hand, We Will Build Our Land and Make Our Tears A Memory”; they sang beautifully, and everyone who heard the song was moved to tears. The Awareness Foundation is now working with the young musicians to make this wonderful song heard around the world.

(clockwise, from top left: Arts, Sports, Drama, Music, Writing and Handicraft)

This activity helped the young people to share their thoughts on how the meaning of life in Syria has changed, and how everyone can play a part to rebuild a new, integrated and secure Syria.

An important part of our weekend together was our attendance at St. Richa’s Saturday Eucharist. All denominations came, and Father Habib Danial invited all Christians to come and receive Communion, no matter what denomination. Father Habib had invited the Anglican, Protestant and Syrian Catholic priests to participate in the service, and a Greek Orthodox person read one of the lessons. This was a wonderful moment of true ecumenical harmony, with the Body of Christ demonstrating that it is one Body, not many!

(Scenes from Holy Communion at St. Richa Maronite Church)

During the two days, we were visited by many of the local clergy, who came to show their support both for us and the young people. This was another example of breaking barriers and putting aside difference.

(left to right: The Revd Nadim Nassar, Father Atef Fallah [Latin Catholic], Fr Amer Kassar [Syrian Catholic] and The Revd Salam Hanna [Presbyterian]; some of the young people breaking bread together; Fr Amer, Revd Hanna and Nadim are joined by Fr Fadi Halawe and Mr Samir Sadekni [Greek Orthodox])

This is not the end. We are working now on a new project with the Leadership Trainees. We shall remain in touch with them, and support them. Now, we look to the future, and we hope and pray that those who participated in these two events can also see a future for themselves now – in safety, in community, and in Syria. We hope that the seeds that we have planted will now grow, turning these young people into real Ambassadors for Peace.