“Things were never so bad in Aleppo before.”
In an urgent appeal to the outside world, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh is calling on Christians throughout the world to pray for the Syrian city of Aleppo, currently caught up in the midst of heavy fighting. “Never, since the beginning of this terrible war were things as bad as they are now. I have no words to describe all the suffering I see on a daily basis,” Father Ibrahim reported on Tuesday to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Rockets and bombs are raining down on churches, mosques, schools and hospitals. Now 17 people have been killed in an attack on our hospital. And the casualties may yet be higher. So many houses have been partially or entirely destroyed, and so many people killed or severely injured. And when the bombs do stop falling, there is an eerie silence, like in a cemetery. The streets are as though everyone has died.” He goes on to tell us how the Orthodox Easter, on the previous Sunday, had been a very sad affair. “It was more like Good Friday than Easter Sunday. Although two liturgies were celebrated, they were very poorly attended. People were either burying their dead or else they stayed at home out of fear. It was depressing. When will the world community finally wake up and put an end to this new Sarajevo?”
“I am praying to our Lord to support us.”
Father Ibrahim has been working for almost two years now in this divided city of northern Syria, the scene of fierce fighting between the Syrian government and rebel groups. “Whoever can escape, does so. On Sunday the roads out of the city were packed with refugees. Those who remain behind are the poorest of all, the ones who cannot even afford to look for a place of safety. We are helping them, wherever and however we can. Some of the people are living in half ruined homes. We help them with repairs and support them, thanks to the help of ACN, with food, clothing, medicines, items of hygiene and other things. But now we really need any outside help we can get. We are in the greatest of need.”
Father Ibrahim has also noticed increasing signs of psychological stress in people. “The nervous breakdowns are increasing, and we now have so many psychological illnesses as a result of the war. There is so much misery. But at least I thank God that through his grace I am able to be a good Samaritan to all the suffering people. I try to console them with the word of God, but also with deeds of corporal mercy. I always have in my ears the words of Pope Francis, that we must show people the tenderness of God. We priests and religious have really become fathers, and still more mothers, to the people, trying to bind up their wounds tenderly, like a mother.
Father Ibrahim compared the state of the 50,000 or so Christians still remaining in Aleppo with the situation of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. “Saint Paul was in prison on account of his faith, together with Silas. But they were liberated through their prayers. They turned that terrible prison into a place of prayer. That is what we Christians in Aleppo are also called to do. No matter how frightful this place is, yet we must still give Christian witness. We must not think only of ourselves.”
He goes on to say that the cross that the Christians are carrying is very heavy. “But it also creates a communion with God and with one another such as I have never seen before. My faith and my priestly vocation have grown here in Aleppo. I pray a great deal before the Tabernacle, that the Lord will support us,” Father Ibrahim continues. And he expressly thanked the benefactors of ACN. “Without their generosity we could do almost nothing. Please be assured that every day prayers go up to God from the mouths of children, the poor and the elderly, that He may bless you for your help. Please continue to pray fervently for us, that we remain strong in faith and love. For this crisis is beyond our human strength.”
Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the Christians of Aleppo for many years now. Through the Church representatives who are our project partners on the spot, we fund programs which help the needy by providing them with food, clothing and medication among other necessities. There is also help for essential accommodation and study.
ACN also helps those Christians from Syria and Iraq who have been forced to flee from war and terrorism and are now refugees, either in their own countries or in neighbouring countries abroad.
By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada