Before the Barbaric invasion, a statue of Christ and the Virgin Mary overlooked the village. Following the capture of Maaloula, the jihadists shot down the two Christian symbols. But the mountains were not to stay long without their protectors.
The "Lady of Peace" is straightened up immediately after the liberation. Today, at the location of the statue of Christ, a monumental cross nine metres high, covered with stone slabs, illuminated by numerous spots, surrounded by bright LEDs, dominates the famous village... Visible from afar, it revives the hearts of the villagers who were moved by its inauguration.
Men, women, children, infants, all climbed the "Orthodox Mountain" to participate in this historic event. In the presence of Bishop STEFANOS, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the patriarchal vicar of Damascus of the Greek Orthodox, Lucas El-KHOURY, the consecration of this Syrian symbol is also a sign of hope for the world. The fireworks warm the hearts, already burning. The scouts, blowing their trumpets or vigorously beating their drums, make this unforgettable moment magical: yes, this upright cross is really a symbol of hope! Elias and Nabil proudly wear the colours of Maaloula and Syria: the light breeze that rises makes the banners snap in the wind.
But this ceremony is only the beginning of the festivities that will launch the celebrations in honour of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Friday the 13th. Great moments for the village: the celebration of the year is approaching. For the village, it is the annual apotheosis, the time of the year when the whole world's eyes are turned to these centuries-old traditions. In the morning, at the foot of a neighbour's house, a table is set up: some eat hummus and peanuts, or drink whisky and araq while the nargile turns from hand to hand. At every tourist buses, great ovations rise towards the air. Yes, everyone must be able to see that the inhabitants of Maaloula welcome is not an empty word.
Around 4pm, the aperitif, which started early in the morning, is adjourned. It is Vespers time which will officially open the festivities of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Presided over by His Beatitude Joseph ABSI, Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch, it brings together Catholics and Orthodox in the Church of St George. The Byzantine hymns sung rise to the heavens. Scrolls of incense rise, accompanied by the sound of the bells of the incense burner. The tone is set, exceptional and unforgettable hours are coming...
At the end of Vespers, the crowd breaks into two groups. The Orthodox and Catholic mountains will welcome countless crowds. Already, the inhabitants climb to make sure they don't miss a second of the magnificent spectacle. On the mountain of Catholics, children frisk and jump from rock to rock, under the carefree gaze of their parents, while His Beatitude Joseph the 1st Absi Patriarch of Antioch and the whole East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem, advances with a firm step: a pastor must be present with his flock, in moments of joy as in moments of sorrow.
The sun sets over the small village. One by one, the tires mounted on the top of the mountains are ignited. Fireworks illuminate the sky while the tracer bullets of the Kalashnikovs streak across the night sky. In turn, the suns of fire enter the dance. Children, teenagers and adults, everyone wants to show their dexterity: the sparks jump from one side to the other forming magnificent circles that surround the crosses with a halo proudly erected at the top of the mountain.
Burning logs are rushing down the slopes of the mountains. From afar, we think we see a multitude of small fireflies jumping randomly from the roughness of the rock. A loud clamor suddenly rises: a tire, in an advanced state of combustion, fell into the void. Driving at full speed, it decomposes throughout its path, leaving incandescent fireplaces on the sides of the stony massifs.
While there are between 25,000 and 30,000 people present in Maaloula during all these festivities, Father Toufik, priest of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church of St. George, confides to me with a touch of emotion: "There are three time more people than last year and on the Catholic mountain, there are more than 2,000 people present to attend the pyrotechnics..."
Yes, Maaloula is like this country, a part of the world that some people wanted to destroy militarily, politically, economically and mediatically, but which, today, remains a part of the world more alive than ever.
Yes, Maaloula is like this country, a part of the world that does not want to let itself be imposed laws and directives by technocrats, a part of the world that wants to take back its destiny in hand to live again and ensure a dignified life for its children.
Yes, Maaloula is like this country, a part of the world plunged into apocalyptic chaos but which wants to get out of its despair by being carried by the hope of a better future.
Baudouin, volunteer since 11 months in Syria.