In the letter to the faithful for Lent, Fr. Ibrahim recalls the suffering of 10 years of war, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents don’t have money to feed their children, unemployment and inflation are on the rise. Suicides of desperate fathers are on the rise. “Emergency first Aid” intervention from the Church. The example of the father of Jesus, who “did not flee from the unknown”.
At the time of the new coronavirus, which “continues to spread” and “raises barriers” preventing “a personal visit to each of you”, the Franciscan friars look “to St. Joseph, as an example of pastoral care” for others in difficulty.
This is what Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, a 47-year-old Franciscan, guardian and parish priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo, writes in his Lenten Letter addressed to the Christian community, inspired by the apostolic letter Patris Corde for the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph patron of the universal Church.
Ours, says the priest, is a “cruel reality” permeated by 10 years of “suffering” caused by a conflict that has led to various “shortages: food, hygiene and medical supplies, oil, gas, electricity. “.
These deprivations, exacerbated by the new coronavirus pandemic “may last several years longer”. “Fathers do not know where to get the money from to buy bread for their children. Joblessness, rising prices and inflation, that is why costs of living are getting higher and household incomes fall down. It is not for trivial reasons that many of our women have become depressed and suffer from heart diseases. A lot of fathers have committed suicide in desperation.”
Not to mention, he adds, the “crisis that has affected many young people” whose childhood “had already been stolen by the war”. An educational problem, with schools in ruins and families who are unable to get their children to study, and who “often do not even have the clothes or shoes to send them to class” when there is a lesson. “A mother who we would define lucky, because she still has a paid job today – writes Fr. Ibrahim-told me that after receiving her salary she went to buy a new pair of shoes for her daughter. The only ones of her, they no longer fit her. But the price was three quarters of her monthly salary, so she went home empty-handed.”
In what was once the economic and commercial metropolis of Syria this year the situation appears critical, more due to hunger and lack of work – as in the rest of the country – rather than the fear of contracting Covid-19. As denounced by personalities of the Syrian Church, including the apostolic vicar of Aleppo and the Maronite archbishop of Damascus, the Caesar Act, which affects the population along with inflation, has also been added to the ordinary punitive measures. In this context, Pope Francis’ solidarity with his appeals for peace has even more value.
Fr. Ibrahim writes “who was not a passive and easily submissive man, but courageous and very committed, we accept life as it is, also this very difficult part of our existence. Following in his footsteps, we are faithfully looking for solutions that will help to face reality “with eyes wide open,” taking personal responsibility for it”. To try to alleviate suffering and meet needs, the priest continues, “the Church is committed as much as possible here: we are no longer talking about help in general but about real “emergency first aid” for Christians in need. We try to meet basic needs that cover all ages: baby milk and diapers, food and medicine, paying for school supplies and help children with learning after school, distribution of clothes and heating oil for families, caring for the elderly, the sick and the disabled from restoring dilapidated homes to microeconomic projects. The help of the Church is not limited to material support, but also includes spiritual accompaniment. Christians need a lot of hope today.”
“We thank Saint Joseph – concludes Fr. Ibrahim- or his exemplary life. He, who took responsibility for the family, did not run away from an unknown experience, even when it was very difficult, until he completely surrendered his life until the ultimate sacrifice.”