Aleppo. Coronavirus, Father Ibrahim Alsabagh: “I did not expect this further stage of our Syrian Way of the Cross”.
On the occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Father Ibrahim Alsabagh sent us a letter to update us on the situation in Aleppo. In recent months, the parish priest of Aleppo has been facing a severe crisis due to the Coronavirus. Out of five friars in the mission, four have fallen ill and two have died. Only Father Ibrahim did not contract the virus: “Providence made it possible for me to take care of the two brothers who were still sick and I was able to follow the parish and the people”.
Syria is very much affected by the Coronavirus. The precariousness and lack of hospital facilities, medicines and medical personnel are putting the country in check. The number of dead increases exponentially: “for several days we have buried ten Christians a day who have died because of Covid 19“. Throughout the city of Aleppo (2.5 million inhabitants) the number of deaths every day is estimated at 833, a very high number compared to other parts of the world.
Father Ibrahim’s words squeeze my heart: “Personally, I did not expect this further stage of our Syrian Way of the Cross, and I never imagined living it. Going to Aleppo six years ago, I was ready to meet the missiles, the lack of water and food: I never thought I would face such a pandemic in addition to all this!”.
A torrid heat with temperatures reaching 47 degrees and the lack of electricity for many hours a day are putting the citizens to the test: “During the night, we find ourselves having to wake up continuously because the heat seems to “boil” us with our sweat! There is no rest”.
We are beginning to see the consequences of the sanctions we have often written about in recent months. For a week there has been very little fuel, there are very long lines of cars in front of the petrol stations. The city is completely paralysed, stopped for vehicles and lack of work. No petrol also means no bread: hundreds of men and women, sometimes one on top of the other, waiting from the early hours of the morning for the bread to be distributed so that they can buy it. The Franciscans with the help of Pro Terra Sancta provide food aid and cover medical and health expenses when families are in difficulty.
The waistcoat is growing in an unimaginable way. People become impoverished and indebted to meet basic needs. Father Ibrahim says that “people affected by Covid had to sell their homes just to pay for a few days of intensive care in a private clinic… A tampon costs three times as much as an employee’s salary!”. For this reason, many families gave up their treatment. The intervention of the Franciscans was fundamental: “only thanks to the intervention of the Church, many of them are still alive and are slowly recovering”.
With the arrival of September and the reopening of the schools, concern grows especially because too few measures have been taken to protect the students and their families.
For the time being, however, the catechism centres will remain closed. Father Ibrahim knows that spiritual support cannot fail at such a painful time and uses all means to communicate with people and be close to them. “We count so many crosses here in Aleppo and carry them on our shoulders. These crosses objectively condition our life, our eating, movement and sleep… they also condition our breathing… – and he concludes with this teaching – but we are blessed when we welcome these crosses and live them by offering them for the love of the Lord and our brothers and sisters. The cross becomes our glory, our pride, our victory and our salvation. I hope so for you and I hope so also for our Franciscan mission in Aleppo”.