“I was in prison and you visited me”. Letter from fr. Bahjat, Damascus

Giacomo Pizzi5 March 2020

Here is the Lenten letter of Fra Bahjat Elia Karakach, guardian of the convent of Bab Thouma in Damascus.

Dear friends, I am writing to you from prison.

Here comes the Lenten season which helps us to convert through penance. A time when we are called to be close to those who suffer, to the marginalized with whom the Lord Jesus has identified … The prisoners are expressly mentioned in the parable of the final judgment in Mt 25: 31-46: “I was in prison and you visited me. “

Here in prison I am not alone, but I share this captivity with all my compatriots. We Syrians, in fact, have been living in a large prison since 2011, imposed by Western policies, by countries that claim the role of defenders of civil rights, but embargo an entire nation … and do you know why we are in this prison? Because we want to defend our beautiful country from terrorists who once wanted to turn Syria into an obscurantist state.

Today, the mass media love to highlight the story of a girl who died of cold or a family forced to flee the bombings, but these same media do not tell you about the millions of Syrians who suffer from the cold due to a lack of diesel, which are not they can always enjoy a hot dish due to lack of cooking gas. They don’t tell you about the students who can’t study after dark due to a power cut, they don’t tell you about the elderly abandoned because their children had to emigrate … They don’t tell you about the expensive living prices because the Syrian lira has plummeted further, they don’t tell you about the young soldiers who fight terrorism in sub-zero temperatures and they don’t know if they can do it, they don’t tell you about the sick who cannot have dignified care because “moderate” terrorists have destroyed most of the hospitals and because the hospitals that they work they can’t repair the machines because of the embargo … and surely they won’t tell you about the bombings that killed a young university student two days ago [in Damascus ed.] and even about Erdogan’s openly hostile speeches that he decided to introduce in elementary schools the Ottoman nostalgia for regaining the neighboring lands including Syria.

But the mass media will not even tell you about the joy of the pepople in Aleppo when the national army managed to free the western suburbs of the city, from which mortars rained down on civilians. They will never tell you about the joy of all Syrians for the reopening of the Damascus-Aleppo highway and the restarting of the Aleppo international airport which gave hope for a possible economic recovery … they will not tell you about the announcement of the repair the railway route between the Syrian capital (Damascus) and the industrial capital (Aleppo) and the possibility of traveling by train after nine years of war …

So I tell you that we are in prison … and our news, the real news, is scarcely widespread.

Sometimes someone comes to visit us, makes us feel part of the world and gives us the hope of being able to return to being a “normal” nation, not cut off from the world.

From this prison we hear sad and worrying news of the coronavirus, which invades the world and our beloved Italy, we pray for you and sometimes, wanting to play down, we say that this time it is an advantage to be in “prison”, because at least this cursed virus cannot easily penetrate the walls of our nation.

From the “prison” we wish you all the best and a good Lenten journey … Do not be afraid, Jesus with his Cross has overcome suffering, sin and death.

Remember us in your Lenten charity.