Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria is almost completely destroyed. People live in fear. Many migrate in search of a future. Father Ibrahim Sabbagh, the parish priest of the Church of Saint Francis in Aleppo has sent to us his testimony.
Syria is experiencing a tragic present and is losing its future. This is especially evident here in Aleppo, martyr city of this dirty war. There are no precise figures nationally, but on the local level, I can confirm that 10% of my parishioners have left Aleppo over the past three months – the hardest so far. Some of them went to other cities of the country, some others migrated abroad. They are people belonging to all sectors of the society, mainly young people, engineers, doctors, teachers. This is also evident within our parish itself. Many leaders and members of the Saint Francis Church parish groups and associations have left too.
This migration that involves many people and families is in most cases, the result of a hasty decision, very little planned indeed, which can turn out to be as dangerous as the current situation in Aleppo. People fleeing, in fact, face bombs, risk their life in the sea or along their land routes. And even if we want to take into consideration those migrant families that succeeded in safely reaching another place to stay, we must acknowledge that the integrity of family is often threatened. Especially the elders of a family are not able to adapt themselves to the new environment, and suffer from what we may call ‘culture shock’. Several migrants suffer from disorientation, and their psychological sphere is greatly affected. They become very vulnerable people.
We priests who are responsible for this parish in Aleppo do everything we can to help both individual and families. We can neither force anyone to stay, nor encourage people to leave. There is lack of security, electricity, water, fuel, food, work. There is a complete chaos in the city. It is easy to understand why so many choose to leave. Europe should listen to the clear words of Pope Francis, who repeatedly implores to offer shelter to refugees, and at the same time, urges to analyze the basic reasons behind the phenomenon of immigration in order to try to solve the problem. Getting at the roots of the phenomenon means changing policies, it implies a profound ‘conversion’ of thought and action.
We, priests in Aleppo, will never get tired of repeating that abandoning Syria and the Middle East to their fate, would be a tragedy for all humanity. All that Aleppo has gone through, is already a terrible wound. The historical presence of Christ in this land and the word of the Gospels have been profaned. Nobody is entitled to uproot the 2000 year-old tree of Christianity, irrigated by the martyrs’ blood. When I say ‘nobody’, I refer to both the Islamic fundamentalism and, to ourselves, the 2,000 year-old Church of the East. God is still present today among the rubble of Aleppo, “the gates of hell shall not prevail … “. No one has the right to steal somebody else’s future. We continue to encourage our people to keep on hoping, to bear the cross of courage. As St. John Chrysostom said in a letter written during his last exile, ‘the black clouds and the storms have always forecast sunny weather across the entire history of the Church’. Our prayers help us to find the strength to hope and to be confident that the Church of the East will enjoy sunny days after such terrible storms. (F.L.)