Homs, Syria, Aug 11, 2016 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The war-torn Cathedral of Homs sits in the heart of western Syria. When the area was occupied by the Syrian civil war’s opposition forces, they turned the cathedral into a military headquarters. The occupation took its toll. Icons of the cathedral were stolen, severely damaged or defaced. The marble columns were almost completely ruined. The ambo has been targeted by gunfire, while many furnishings were burned.

In the crypt, the tombs of priests were desecrated. One body was torn from its resting place. Even the roof has holes caused by rocket damage, as large as 23 feet in diameter.

The siege lasted from April 2011 to May 2014, killing some 2,000 people. Now, the Syrian opposition has withdrawn. Christians are returning home. They need to rebuild their cathedral, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. Pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need launched a fundraising campaign in late July for the Melkite Greek Catholic cathedral. It aims to collect about $89,000 to repair the worst damage.

It is a tragedy for a city that was previously known as a crossroads of religious pluralism. “Homs was the cradle of one of the most ancient Christian communities in the East, but Christian blocks like Bab al Dreib and Hamidiya have been abandoned by about 80 percent of the residents,” the pastoral charity said.

Many churches are damaged and unfit for use. However, the situation in Homs has stabilized. Despite the destruction at the cathedral, religious worship have taken place there once again. First Communions have been celebrated.

On July 1, the International Day of the Child, there were signs of renewed life in Homs. That day, the children of Syria celebrated a “Day of Prayer for Peace.” Some 700 Christian children in Homs took the streets for a peace procession. The procession stopped by all the half-destroyed churches of Homs. It ended in front of the Homs cathedral, where children lit candles in front of an icon of the Infant Jesus of Prague, offering prayers for peace.

In a short address, Archbishop Jean Abdo Arbach described the Infant Jesus as “the source of peace for our children and our country.” The posters of the Infant Jesus decorated the sections of the cathedral that were still standing. They will remain in the cathedral.

Donations for the cathedral’s reconstruction may be given through the Aid to the Church in Need website, www.churchinneed.org.