Priest in Aleppo: The situation is growing more hopeless
By Andrea Krogmann
A Syrian proverb says: “Whoever rules over Aleppo, rules over Syria”. The second largest city in Syria, which used to have around 3.5 million inhabitants before the war began more than five years ago, does in fact lie in a strategically important location. Whoever has control over the city in northern Syria “has control over the centre of the country up to its borders, from East to West,” confirmed the Latin priest in Aleppo, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh. The Franciscan monastery in the Er-Ram district as well as facilities run by the Franciscans have repeatedly been bombed since the beginning of the war. Recently, one resident died and two others were severely injured after rocket fire hit a Franciscan school currently being used as a home for the elderly.
(Fr Ibrahim outside of the Church’s pastoral centre recently damaged by a bomb blast © Aid to the Church in Need)
For days now, Aleppo has once again been the focus of heavy fighting between rebel groups and the Syrian army. The Franciscan monastery and the districts in the western part of Aleppo that are primarily inhabited by Christians have again been targeted. According to Father Ibrahim, there are no words to describe the intensity of the fighting and the extent of the destruction; the situation has been worsening by the day since July 8. “Within four hours, 250 rockets fell on the inhabitants of western Aleppo,” Father Ibrahim said and described the current situation as going beyond “that which can be endured”. He said that in these days, Aleppo is experiencing “the worst moments in its history”. Over the last few days, he has heard numerous prayers and cries of despair, the people are praying day and night.
The Syrian army successfully launched an offensive a week ago and seized control of the Castello corridor in the northern part of Aleppo, which acts as a channel of supply. The rebel groups that control the eastern part of the city are getting ready for a siege that will last for months. With this, the worst fears of Aleppo’s Christians have come true. “It means that we no longer have any chance of living. Some believe that it would almost be better to die, said Father Ibrahim. According to the Franciscan, “two-thirds of the Christians, if not more” have already left the city. With approximately 150,000 believers, Aleppo was one of the largest Christian communities in Syria before the war.
The Christians live in the western part of the city, which is controlled by the Syrian army, and so they “at least have the right to live and the right to believe in our faith,” Father Ibrahim said. He believes that this would be virtually unthinkable in rebel-held areas. Even though the groups fighting on the side of the rebels are impossible to identify with any accuracy, he continued, it is possible to attest to the terror they spread. “Anyone who shoots rockets at residential houses, churches, schools and hospitals is not a ‘moderate rebel’!” The Syrian clergyman made a clear appeal to the West in this regard. “Close the borders through which the weapons, food and fighters are being supplied. To 95 per cent, the supplies are arriving from Turkey and they arrive with backup. We are not talking about individuals, but of entire organised forces operating with logistics.” Even though the Franciscan does not want to give up hoping for a diplomatic solution, it is a “hope against all hope”, and the last days “an expression of the impossibility of a diplomatic solution.”
(Mass devastation in Aleppo caused by ongoing missile blasts © Aid to the Church in Need)
According to the priest, the remaining Christians are plagued by great uncertainty and struggle daily with the decision of either remaining or fleeing. Furthermore, “the list of martyrs is long,” Father Ibrahim said. In response to this dramatic situation, he is calling for action, “We cannot remain passive in the face of this evil. Our clear answer must be patience and a positivity of action. This is why we are helping where we can by visiting the sick and praying with the faithful.” In addition to providing pastoral care, the five Franciscans in Aleppo help by handing out food parcels, taking over the costs of electricity and medical care as well as rent and school fees.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting the Christians in Aleppo for many years. Programmes are financed through local church partners to ensure that those in need receive help. In addition, the organisation provides aid for the homeless. The charity also assists Christians in Syria and Iraq who are being displaced within their countries or have been taken in by neighbouring countries such as Lebanon.
ACN has been helping the Church in Syria to provide the needy with food, clothing, accommodation and medication, as well as help for Christian refugees in neighbouring countries. Since March 2011 when the conflict began, ACN has provided over $15.5 million in aid for Syria – its largest ongoing aid package.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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