In Aleppo, a Return to the Heart of a Lost Country

September 15, 2017
Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo is no longer on the front page since it was liberated last December. Yet the city is still a smoking heap of ruins.

60% of the churches have been destroyed and Christians now represent only 4% of the population – compared to 30% before the war – and they are surviving in conditions of silent misery. Worse yet, dormant jihadist cells are standing by ready to be reactivated at any moment. In spite of all, hope remains in the souls of these forgotten Christians.

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh is pastor of the Latin Catholic parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Aleppo. This religious is the episcopal vicar in what was once the economic capital of Syria, and he recently traveled to Italy where he gave a series of conferences on the current situation of Christians in the city that was liberated in December 2016.

Speaking to the Catholic press agency AsiaNews, the Franciscan declared that the situation is anything but back to normal:

Before the war, Aleppo was Syria’s largest industrial town, providing 60 per cent of the country's output. Today, it is paralyzed, and incapable of producing even a pound of tomatoes.

The pastor from Aleppo went on to say that “the government is incapable of rebuilding so long as the security problems remain, especially the dormant terrorist groups that remain ready to strike at any given moment”. 

While the ceasefire did put an end to open conflict and the division of the city into two zones, some neighborhoods still remain under sporadic mortar fire.

The population lives in terror, convinced that there remain extremist groups that are “inactive but ready to strike”. The danger, Fr. Ibrahim explained, “comes from the fundamentalist ideology that has taken root in the minds of part of the population, an ideology that feeds off ignorance, poverty and a desire for revenge”. 

Faced with a situation that would discourage many, the Catholic Church in Aleppo is not giving up. Several initiatives have been launched during the past few months: from cleaning the city, to helping young families, food packages for hundreds of children, the organization of health care and distribution of medicine, etc.

Speaking to a European audience that has forgotten what it is like to lack even the bare necessities, Fr. Ibrahim insisted: “All these things have become a luxury for poor people with no means.” 

Among the many projects for rebuilding Aleppo, the one closest to Fr. Ibrahim’s heart “is following young couples who got married during the war. Today this project includes 940 Christian families.” The Franciscan summed up the situation perfectly: “Hope in God alone has given us the strength to move forward.”

Here is a lesson for all to meditate upon.