The shadow of poverty and the light of Mary.
The Witness of Father Ibrahim
“The situation in the city of Aleppo is plummeting every day, and casts a shadow over the daily lives of poor people who are out of breath after more than ten years of what is called ‘the Syrian crisis’. Electricity comes only four hours a day, while heating oil almost does not exist. Gas is another problem.”
Thus began the testimony of the Franciscan father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest in Aleppo, at the church of San Francesco. With his usual frank style, which does not lack transport, he paints the image of his kneeling city, forced into poverty and hunger by the long gallery of horrors that for ten years now has made Syria one of the most tormented regions of the Middle East.
Father Ibrahim paints the face of Aleppo through that of its parishioners, who day after day go to him in long processions of begging, devoid of everything except needs. “I know many ladies in the parish who, due to the lack of hot water, cannot take a shower for 20 days and more.” And hunger, more than any other lack, bites the bowels of the people of Aleppo: “To collect bread, many wake up at 5.00 in the morning and go to queue in front of the oven, in the rain, perhaps: almost always in the cold”. That cold that Father Ibrahim defines as “terrible, famous for all Syrians, especially for those who experience it”.
Health in Aleppo
And to date, the Syrian situation can only be aggravated by the state of public health and the conditions of the health system in the country. Ibrahim says that “the health situation is not talked about, because in the face of the lack of any type of medical insurance, in the face of the precarious situation of hospital and outpatient facilities and in the face of the increase in the prices of medicines, medical examinations and surgical interventions, citizens need a lot of courage to be able to try to obtain a medical examination and a diagnosis”.
In this context, the pandemic emergency due to the spread of Covid-19 is registered. The “Covid problem” is vehemently compared by Father Ibrahim to a “beast”. This, says Father Ibrahim, as it happens for the lion of which peter’s letter speaks to us (Pt 5:8), “goes around the streets devouring those who should meet it”.
The many poverty of Aleppo and Syria
The expression is colorful, it is strong. But it helps us to understand how deep is the problem that those who live in Syria face on a daily basis. There, Covid, is a wild beast more than anywhere else. The numbers of infections, which are not counted, but rather the state of the health system, deeply damaged by a war that continues, which shows no sign of ending, are not authentic to prove it.
Under the incessant bombardment of foreign powers, which in the first week of January fell constantly, day after day, the north-western area of Syria, that of Aleppo and Idlib, sees hospitals, health centers, clinics destroyed … The WHO reports that in the first six months of 2021 there were eight attacks carried out by military forces against medical facilities in the North-West area. 70% of health personnel had to leave the country between the beginning of the conflict and today that the war has now largely exceeded its tenth anniversary.
To this is added the problem of ‘Caesar’ sanctions. Imposed on the Syrian Arab Republic in June 2020 by a US-led coalition, they are the cause of persistent, obsessive poverty for the people. Sanctions have prevented the commercialization of hydrocarbons, especially oil, on which the Syrian economy has always been based. These measures are at the origin of the impossibility of importing into Syrian territory household appliances, cars, consumer goods essential to lead a dignified life.
In short, in Syria the wounds are many and the population is tired, wounded, abandoned and poor. And in Aleppo, in that North-West still branded by war and violent jihadism, this is especially true.
A Marian commitment for Aleppo
“This is what happens to Elizabeth”, adds Father Ibrahim, recalling the episode of the Visitation, which in recent weeks we have had the opportunity to meditate on. “Looking closely at the reality in the city of Aleppo, we see that all our people are like Elizabeth, in need of tenderness, of disinterested, humble and concrete service, from all points of view both humanitarian and spiritual”.
And, as happens in the Visitation, there are those who bring this tenderness and comfort to affliction. In the Gospel of Luke it is Mary who goes to visit her cousin, the one whom Father Ibrahim defines as “the highest model that a person can give himself to try to respond with love to God and neighbor”. Mary “responds generously to the call of need, with so much charity, with so much faith and with so much hope; with so much gratuitousness and with all of herself”.
With this style Father Ibrahim carries out his mission in Aleppo: “However small and limited we are, we have managed to give an answer to the Love that has become incarnate in our hearts. We tried to transmit Jesus to everyone, as Mary did.” This is what sustains his commitment in the city, on the side of the least, of the weakest, with all the freshness of the free gift and all the dignity of a vocational task: “we must nourish the possibility of shedding blood to lighten the cross that is loaded on the shoulders of each one in our city!”.
A thank you, from Aleppo
And then, thinking without a doubt of all the benefactors, benefactors, collaborators, friends and friends of Pro Terra Sancta, Father Ibrahim adds: “With us, in this ‘Marian mission’, there are also you, who do not cease to pray and help us as much as you succeed, in all possible ways. I express to you so much gratitude, in the name of the suffering People of Aleppina and in the name of the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land”.