Inside Aleppo’s crumbling Saint Elias Cathedral, Nehme Badawi and his brother Bashir rummage through the snow-covered rubble for wood and scrap metal to make a crude Nativity scene for Christmas.
The roof of the famed church in Aleppo’s Old City had collapsed years ago under a salvo of rocket fire, and bright white flakes floated down and rested on the destruction inside.
“We’re using whatever debris we can find to symbolise the triumph of life over death,” says 53-year-old Nehme, as he gathered broken tree branches to decorate the scene.
After more than four years of fierce fighting, the guns have fallen silent in Syria’s second city just a few days before Christmas.
The army announced on Thursday that it had fully recaptured Aleppo, putting an end to the violence that transformed the city from a hub of culture and history into a worldwide symbol of destruction.
Aleppo’s small Catholic minority has wasted no time in trying to bring life back to the ruins of Saint Elias, preparing the church for its first Christmas mass in five years.
Along with his brother and a group of boy scouts, Bashir is surrounded by overturned church pews, pieces of corrugated metal and scraps of wood strewn across the floor.
“The emotional impact is much bigger and deeper than the material loss,” he says.