On March 6, 2022, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, took part in the opening ceremony of the Center for Child Rehabilitation and Prosthetics, established at the Compound of the Russian Orthodox Church in Damascus.
The Center was organized with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia with the support of Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the President of the Russian Federation, the Foundation for the Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, the Charity Foundation "Cognition", the Charity Foundation "Kirche in Not".
The ceremony was attended by: Minister of Religious Affairs and Waqfs of the Syrian Arab Republic Mohammed Abdul Sattar Al-Sayed; Minister of Local Self-Government and Ecology Hussein Makhlouf; Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Syrian Arab Republic A.V. Efimov; Deputy of the People's Council of the Syrian Arab Republic, Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Relations with the Orthodox Church Mari al-Bitar; Head of the medical service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Syria Colonel General Michel Farah; Mayor of Damascus Adel Al-Olabi; Senior Vicar of the Patriarch of Antioch Bishop Moses of Darai; Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations; Abbot Arseny (Sokolov), representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Patriarchal See of Antioch, Priest Alexander Karzan, secretary of the DECR Chairman; N.V. Sukhov, Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Damascus; N.V. Sukhov, Head of the Aluafa Rimal Alsaleh Charitable Foundation; Jihad Muhammad Haddad, chief physician of the Center for Child Rehabilitation and Prosthetics at the Russian Orthodox Church Compound in Damascus; director of this Center Hassan Raya; Deputy General Director of the Charity Foundation "Cognition" I.A. Parfenov; assistant to the DECR Chairman V.Yu. Li.
Important guests of the event were 30 children who had previously been prosthetics, as well as their parents.
As part of the opening ceremony of the center, a ceremonial cutting of a symbolic ribbon took place.
Welcoming the high representatives of the Syrian state authorities, the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the leadership of Damascus, Metropolitan Hilarion touched upon the history of the creation of the rehabilitation center:
"A few years ago, we started a rehabilitation program for Syrian children who suffered during the military conflict: they were blown up by mines, were wounded by shrapnel from exploding bombs. Some of them lost a leg or an arm, some lost both legs, some lost their sight. When these children started coming to Russia, we realized that rehabilitation should be comprehensive. A child who has lost an arm or leg needs not only to be fitted with a prosthesis – he needs to be taught how to use this prosthesis, and most importantly, it is important to teach him to live anew. This requires a comprehensive approach and the participation of different specialists.
When these children came to us, they did not smile, practically did not talk. They were given colored pencils – they took a black pencil and drew bombs, rockets. But then psychologists, prosthetists, therapists, oculists worked with the affected children, and gradually the will to live returned to them.
We very soon realized that if we want to reach more children, we need to create a rehabilitation center here, on the spot, instead of taking them to Moscow. And so, on the basis of the Representative Office of the Russian Orthodox Church under the Patriarch of Antioch, we created this center so that children could be brought here, so that prosthetics could be installed here, psychologists worked with them, so that their comprehensive rehabilitation could take place here.
As you understand, the child requires constant attention, he can not just put a prosthesis and let him go on all four sides. Children are growing up, which means that every six months it is necessary to replace the prosthesis. The child should be under constant supervision of doctors, you need to work with him, you need to talk to him.
When one of the injured children came to us (he lost his limbs), I told him about a man we all read about at school in Soviet times – a pilot who lost both legs during the Great Patriotic War. But he had such a will to live, such a desire to win, that instead of demobilizing, he did everything to return to flying. He was given prosthetics – he learned to fly again and subsequently shot down many enemy planes, became a Hero of the Soviet Union. The writer Boris Polevoy wrote a book about this pilot - it was called "The Story of a Real Man."
Our task is to help each of these children become real people, so that despite what happened to them in childhood, each of them lived a decent, happy life. That's what we're here for."
The DECR Chairman thanked the Syrian Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Waqfs, the Ministry of Education, the Damascus City Hall, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Syrian Arab Republic and all those who helped in the creation and support in the further functioning of the Center for Child Rehabilitation and Prosthetics at the Russian Orthodox Church Compound in Damascus.
The DECR Chairman expressed special gratitude to the Foundation for the Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, with the participation of which repairs were carried out in the Center, modern medical equipment was purchased. "We have applied to the Christian Culture and Heritage Support Fund with a request to continue financing this project. We hope that a positive decision will be made already in March, at a meeting of the Foundation's board," the DECR chairman stressed.
"I want to assure our Syrian brothers and sisters that Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church will always be with you. We will do everything in our power to ensure that your country rises from the ruins as soon as possible, so that all its inhabitants, children and adults, are happy," Metropolitan Hilarion said in conclusion.
Then there was a speech by the Minister of Waqf Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mohammed Abdul Sattar al-Sayed. He expressed deep gratitude "for the very important humanitarian work" to those who made efforts to create this Center, first of all to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the entire Russian Orthodox Church, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, His Beatitude Patriarch John X, regional and local authorities, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Syria.
"We would also like to thank Metropolitan Hilarion, whom we know very well due to the fact that he has made many visits to our country, for his attention to the implementation of this project," the minister said.
In addition, the speaker expressed gratitude to the head of the Russian diplomatic mission in the Syrian Arab Republic, stressing: "Relations between our countries are getting deeper day by day."
He pointed out that the implementation of such an important project to help the victims is carried out "in fulfillment of the teachings of Jesus Christ, who spoke about peace and love." "There is no doubt that bringing peace to the earth is what the Russian Orthodox Church is currently doing in Syria in cooperation with Patriarch John X of Antioch," Mohammed Abdul Sattar al–Sayed added.
"We would like to express our most sincere and deep gratitude to the Russian Federation, its President Vladimir Putin, Patriarch Kirill," the minister said.
Russian Ambassador to Syria A.V. Efimov, addressing the participants of the opening ceremony of the children's rehabilitation center, said: "Here today we are one family, Christians and Muslims, we have a common holiday: we are opening this magnificent center for the treatment of children. I think that children are the most important thing in our lives, and even more so we must take care of those children who have suffered from this terrible war."
Thanking everyone who contributed to the implementation of such an important humanitarian project, the diplomat stressed: "The opening of the center is another evidence of what fraternal, strategic, friendly relations our two countries have; these relations have historical roots at all levels: at the level of presidents, at the level of governments, parliaments and peoples."
Then there was a welcoming speech by the senior vicar of His Beatitude Patriarch John of Antioch, Bishop Moses of Darai.
A tour of the rehabilitation center was held for the audience. Then there was a conversation with children who are undergoing rehabilitation. The children received memorable gifts from Metropolitan Hilarion.
The Center will continue its work on a daily basis. Young patients will be assisted by pediatricians, traumatologists, neurologists, psychologists, rehabilitologists and physical therapy instructors.
The work of Syrian doctors will be carried out under the patronage of the Scientific and Practical Center of Child Psychoneurology of the Moscow Department of Health.