Long abandoned, the monastery of Mar Elian (Saint-Julien) came back to life in the 2000s thanks to the efforts of Father Jacques Mourad and the community of Al-Khalil. Located in Al-Qaryatayn, in the Syrian desert, between Damascus, Homs and Palmyra, Mar Elian testifies to the presence of Christians in the region since the 5th century, when a first monastery was built in dried earth.
Over the centuries, the place has become a major place of pilgrimage, at the crossroads of religions, welcoming thousands of Christians and Muslims each year. But in 2015, Daesh, which took control of the territory, ransacked the sanctuary with bulldozers, burned the church and desecrated the tomb of Saint Julien. Father Jacques Mourad and 250 Christians were then taken hostage. After five months of detention, the priest managed to escape. Now Syriac Catholic archbishop of Homs, he directs the restoration project, carried out in particular thanks to L’Œuvre d’Orient.
A first phase of reconstruction began in 2021 to rehabilitate the orchard. Other construction sites followed around the building. The archaeological excavation field damaged by Daesh remains to be rehabilitated. Initiated in 2001, this research made it possible to uncover remains of buildings: the foundations of 18th century churches which had collapsed, a cellar with terracotta jars. It is the project in its entirety that the Pilgrim Prize for Christian Heritage in Danger, in partnership with the French Foundation of the Order of Malta, rewards.