By Maria Lozano
THE RE-CONSECRATION of the altar in the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Peace (Dec. 1, 2017) was a new milestone on the journey back to normalcy in Homs, Syria. For three long years, 2011-2014—the city split between rebels and the Syrian regime—it was the setting for some of the fiercest fighting of the civil war. By the time the government took full control of Homs again, the city was left in ruins.
In his emotional homily for the occasion, Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi said, addressing an audience of more than a thousand: “Many have fallen as martyrs, your homes were destroyed; you were displaced and you lost your belongings and money; nevertheless, you did not allow these hardships to overcome you and defeat your spirit. You came back, with your strong will, to rebuild what has been destroyed; and here, today, you, with your presence, bring life back to this cathedral.”
The Melkite Catholic cathedral was the most extensively damaged church building in Homs. Our Lady Queen of Peace and all the property of the local diocese were in rebel hands until May 9, 2014. Many of the icons and statues were stolen or disfigured. There was widespread damage from bombings and bullets, as well as fire; in the crypt, tombs of priests were profaned.
To make matters worse, said Melkite Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach of Homs, “two days after the liberation of Homs, there was an enormous explosion inside the cathedral, causing damage that was ten times worse. The cupola, the roof and two entire walls collapsed. The rebels had hidden explosives beneath the bishop’s cathedra, the bishop’s throne.”