The cherished bells of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Thunder Bay, Ont., have been tolling daily in mourning for the thousands killed by bombing and other strife in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Tolling church bells, long a sign of mourning, is intended to remind people of the bombing of homes and hospitals and the suffering of innocent civilians in Aleppo, according to the rector, Archdeacon Deborah Kraft. The bells are being tolled by one of the parish bell ringers at 5 p.m. for four minutes until United Nations Day, Monday, Oct. 24.
St. Paul’s began tolling the bells October 17, joining an initiative that went viral on the Web after it launched in Finland about five days earlier. Thunder Bay has a significant community of people of Finnish origin and a parish family heard about the Bells for Aleppo campaign from a family member now living in Finland.
The Evangelical Lutheran Parish of Kallio in Helsinki began tolling its bells October 12 and the initiative was taken up by over 250 churches in several countries around the world, but especially in Scandinavia and Western Europe. A few Canadian parishes were among those to join in.
“Funeral bells are usually tolled when a coffin is escorted out of the church,” says a campaign website. “Now, funeral bells are ringing as a reminder for people to respect and remember those who have had their lives taken in Aleppo.
“The bells are a demand to end the ongoing killing in besieged Aleppo, as well as an outcry against the devastating impact on the population and infrastructure caused by the bombings on the 3,000-year-old city.”
Dr. Teemu Laajasalo, vicar of the Kallio Parish, said, “There is no moral argument that can justify the bombing of humanitarian aid or that of churches. In particular, there are no grounds for the destruction of the lives of civilians, including many children.”
The 10 bells of St. Paul’s are something of a pride and joy for the parish. Weighing 7,200 pounds, they were shipped to from New York by rail in 1910, a couple of years after the church was built. Parishioners think St. Paul’s might be the only church between Winnipeg and Toronto to feature bells in its tower, tied to giant keys, and manually played by volunteer ringers.
Kraft noted that the bells are rung annually for the International Day of Peace-in conjunction with Thunder Bay’s sister city of Gifu City, Japan. Along with many Anglican churches in Canada, the parish tolled its bells for missing and murdered Indigenous women last year and they are tolled for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They are also rung before services, weddings, and funerals.
St. Paul’s is active in a local inter-church coalition seeking to bring a family of Syrian refugees to Thunder Bay.
Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate of the Anglican Church and national director of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer, said the initiative is an important revival of an old tradition.
“What church bells did historically was draw the whole community together around events of common interest. That’s what’s happening here.”