Person of the month: Fr. Ibrahim, pastor in Aleppo, Syria
Fr. Ibrahin Alsabagh is Parish Priest in Aleppo. Born in Damascus, he completed his studies in Rome, after which he returned to Syria to be with his people. In a recent telephone conversation we asked him to tell us what it means to live out the faith in a place like Aleppo which is devastated by conflict.
Fr. Ibrahim, what is it that makes you stay in a place like Aleppo, a city destroyed by the absurd violence of war?
First of all, I perceive it as God’s will for my life. I once made a pact with the Lord, when it was clear to me that He was asking me to follow Him. I said to Him: “Lord, life with you is fairly difficult, but without you it would be impossible. I cannot live apart from you.” Then, when I perceived that my vocation as a priest was to take care of others, of the families, I asked him to be in my place in the families. At the time I was 19 years old, but I have never forgotten it, beause it is forever present in my heart. So, taking care of His family, His people: this is His will, and that is why I am ready to go – and I feel at peace to go to any place, wherever it is that I feel I am being sent by Him. When I was told to go to Aleppo I didn’t fear, even though it was clear to me that I would be carrying a heavy cross due to the conditions of life there. But the pact I had made with the Lord was forefront in my mind, hence, out of love, I stay on this path with great peace of mind and heart.
Are you never afraid?
The things that frighten us are overcome by the grace of the Lord which acts in us. It is the same grace that enables us to do things we could never imagine we were capable of doing. Even now, here in this place, I am aware of certain paternal feelings, so sweet, that I say to myself: “But I am not capable of such tenderness! I do not have the strength to love to this point!” And thus I am aware of this grace that comes from Him. Truly, when we give ourselves over to Him, it is Jesus who lives in us, as St. Paul says.
How do you live out communion with the Universal Church?
Our problem is an objective one; of communication, of connection, of interruption to the telephone line. Nonetheless, I try every day to know what the Pope is saying. After my last visit to Italy I realised that we are very much in the prayers of the parishes, the priests, and the many consecrated people who do prayer vigils for us. This is very encouraging.
What do you ask of us here in Europe?
Above all, to keep on praying for the Middle East, for Christians in Syria and in Aleppo in particular; because prayer is a sign of faith, it is a tangible sign of the deep communion that exists between us. And then… there is need for everything. Sometimes we are unable to express what it is that we really need. With the aid that we receive we are able to help the people, even in little ways. Do not forget the (importance of) being generous that we recently read of in Scripture. St. Paul personally took up collections for the Christians of Jerusalem who were in great difficulty, and he invited the faithful to manifect the charity that was in their hearts by giving concrete help to the other Churches in difficulty. As we continue to hope in God’s Providence, we are certain that it will never lack.”