Liberated in recent months from the occupying forces of radical Muslim terrorists, the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria was the scene of a liturgy that may bring hope and healing to a country riven by years of warfare. On July 11, a performance of Mozart’s Mass in D minor was held in the Maronite Catholic cathedral in the city. The Naregatsi Christian choir of Aleppo joined the symphonic orchestra of Damascus, involving 45 musicians and 30 choir members. The concert was funded by l’Œuvre d’Orient and directed by Father Yeghiche Elias Janji, who had directed a performance of the same piece for Pope Benedict XVI some years ago in Italy.
Because the cathedral was full, overflow crowds could see and hear the concert on giant video screens that were arrayed at the Monsignor Farhat Plaza outside the church. “I wanted to direct this concert by Mozart in Aleppo, in the ruined Maronite cathedral of St. Elias and at Monsignor Farhat Plaza. This place is an important symbol for the Christians of Aleppo because there are three great cathedrals here: one for the Maronites, one for the Greek Melkites, and one for the Armenian Catholics. The Damascus orchestra is not made up solely by Christians; it is important to bring together all of the communities of Syria so as to show a common face,” said Father Yeghiche Elias.
The performance of the composition was all the more dramatic because the Maronite cathedral as yet has no roof because of damage the building suffered from bombardment. However, this has not prevented Aleppo’s Christians from twice celebrating their liturgy in the structure, even in the snow at Christmas, following the city’s liberation from the forces of the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the cathedral goes on. L'Oeuvre d'Orient is a Catholic association of France that is dedicated to helping Christians in the East. It is a work of the Church placed under the protection of the Archbishop of Paris, which supports the works of bishops, priests, and religious communities on the ground in some twenty countries, especially in the Middle East, since 1856.