Christians in Aleppo, Caught Between Poverty and the Coronavirus

February 15, 2021
Maronite Church of St. Elijah in Aleppo

Being a Christian in Aleppo is a real tour de force: apart from the constraints weighing on a minority with an uncertain future, in a politically unstable land of Islam, poverty and the COVID-19 epidemic do nothing to encourage the return of families who fled the region during the civil war.

“About 85% of our families are now below the poverty line. They are suffering from poverty, extreme poverty, frustration, and there are people living in total annihilation who need all kinds of help.”

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh’s observation is disillusioned. The religious - a conventual minor brother - is pastor of the parish of Aleppo.

On January 21, 2021, he described on the digital portal of the Custody of the Holy Land, the living conditions of his flock, caught in the grip of international economic sanctions against Syria, and the health consequences of the coronavirus.

The economic pressure thus affects all sectors. Worse, “many people have no income and face extreme poverty and very high inflation, and are forced to go without foods such as meat, chicken, eggs and cheese. The price of vegetables has also increased. There is struggle in all sectors, a suffocating crisis where man really faces the risk of hunger,” describes the Franciscan.

Electricity itself seems to have become a luxury: “Electricity only comes on for one hour a day for every ten hours of blackout, meaning that over a 24-hour period, electricity only comes on for about two and a half hours,” laments the priest of Aleppo.

And as if that were not enough, in addition to the winter cold, the lack of electricity, and the hunger, there is the epidemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2, which has caused the collapse of a health system weakened since the end of the jihadist occupation.

Fr. Alsabagh describes the dilemma of the Christians of Aleppo who seem to fall from Charybdis to Scylla in this way: “They can't stay home because they would starve, but at the same time they can't go to the hospital. They don't want to hear about either Coronavirus or precautionary measures.”

In this context, the Church, through the Custody of the Holy Land, remains the last resort for spiritual, moral, and also material support: “in a context like this where there is no social assistance, as a Church we intervene strongly. We try to contribute to the basic needs, starting with health care,” explains the religious who wants to keep up hope against all odds, because “in the end the light has to win,” he assures calmly.

The number of Christians in Aleppo has decreased by 66% in ten years: a figure that shows no sign of decreasing due to continuous emigration. In an attempt to remedy the crisis, leaders of the Catholic Church in Syria called on the international community at the end of January 2021 to lift sanctions against a bloodless country.