It is with great joy and in faith that we are approaching the most important event of our Christian faith—the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has triumphed over death and evil through His death and resurrection, and who fills us with His life in abundance. He Himself is our life, our hope… our peace. In what atmosphere will the Christians of Aleppo celebrate Easter? In that of Resurrection? Is war really over?
The armed groups left Aleppo when rockets stopped to rain down on our homes and to destroy them. We took back the burnt ground and the buildings that had been completely destroyed. Many families have lost their homes and are currently living in miserable, almost inhuman conditions. Peace is still very fragile. We don’t live safely, there are still signs of “slumbering” terrorist cells that can awake at any time. We live in constant fear, especially during festivals and celebrations. War continues around the city; overnight we can hear the bombings and the sounds of gunshots, and dead bodies of young men who do military service are brought to the city; sometimes the only main road leading to Aleppo is the scene of clashes.
Prices rise immediately. If the siege lasts more than three days, fruits and vegetables go missing because they come from the farmland. Young people are recruited for military service; they are often heads of family, and in any case the family’s only source of income. We suffer from water shortages as well. Electricity is in use only during the day for a few minutes and not continuously.
Prior to the conflict, Aleppo was the biggest Syrian industrial city, guaranteeing more than 60% of the country’s production. Currently it is a paralysed city with no more factories. Living conditions are still very harsh. The necessary facilities for everyday life are missing. Many people are suffering, afflicted, and poor.
As Job, people have lost everything they had—their homes, families, health. We have massive unemployment and prices are very high. Even those who have a job and work the whole day cannot earn enough money to feed their families for a month, for hygiene products, for medical care, etc. 93% of the families needs help. Many people are ill, even hospitalised, because of water poisoning. There is no drinkable water—we have to buy it and it costs a lot.
But fire still burns under the ashes, and some sprouts of hope are appearing. Those who receive help from the parish ask themselves: how can I help the others? They start working as volunteers. During Lent, children made sacrifices renouncing something, and with the money they saved they bought some desserts for the elderly who live in the nursing home, giving them love and joy. Young people went on pilgrimage to the churches that have been destroyed by the war. In this gesture of sharing, they expressed their sadness, but also their faith that the true Church shapes its faithful; Christ’s disciples and their desire to rebuild it following the example of Saint Francis, the patron of our parish.
These are only little examples. Big things originate from small things, from the simplest ones: a handshake, a smile. We have much hope that these small seeds will really make great miracles. Today we feel the Great Influence of the Church in Aleppo, its “great moral power” and we want to take advantage of our moral authority to lead our country towards dialogue and peace, to restore this beautiful mosaic society that has been wounded in its unity. We welcome this mission God has entrusted us as an opportunity to witness the behaviours taught in the Gospel. For Jesus said: «Freely you have received, freely give» (Mt 10:8). We have seen the gratuitousness of Someone who gave His life for us. Through our both spiritual and humanitarian service, we simply reflect His gratuitousness and charity, without expecting any reward.
This is our joy and our strength. This strength of charity was given us by Someone who has conquered the powers of evil and of death. This strength is the power of Resurrection which revives us every day in the Mystery of His Body and Blood. It is thanks to this that we can do more than we are able and imagine in helping the other. We are simply witnesses of this power of Resurrection, also for you, brothers and sisters of the whole world, members of the only Body of Christ. You experience the same source of life and action as we do.
We hope that you will feel this power of the Risen One more and more and that you will increasingly become witnesses of this power that has conquered death and sin, to be, in turn, source of eternal life for all your neighbours.
With my best wishes for a happy Holy Easter,
Fr Ibrahim, OFM