Life under attack in Aleppo – Extract from a letter sent by Fr Ibrahim
Two missiles on Ram.8
I try to tell you what is happening here in Aleppo, since the army’s offensive to take back the city began. On the night between the 3rd and the 4th of February, two missiles fired by the Jihadists landed in the area of Soulaymanieh-Ram, where our pastoral Center is located.
Before this, I thought to gather all the Friars in a local pastoral Chapter, in order to figure out how we could intensify our mission in the area of Soulaymanieh and of Midaan.
The result of constant bombing is always the same: death and house-destruction. Two Christians have died; there are many injured people and a lot of damaged houses. We’re discouraged, because we had just finished repairing the damage caused by the missiles on the 12th of April 2015, when these new bombs have again destroyed what we’d just fixed. Our church hasn’t been damaged so far, but the roof and the catechesis classrooms have been damaged and partially destroyed; shakes and explosions have ruined walls and windows, which have shattered.
The first missiles that have fallen on our pastoral Center pierced the roof, hitting the statue of the Virgin Mary, the bell tower and some water storage tanks that had recently been installed. The statue of the Virgin Mary was reduced into smithereens when it landed in the middle of the street. The second missile fell on another street, killing two Christians, damaging the Center entrance and the buildings, which had been damaged already by many bombs and missiles in the past.
We, Friars, immediately visited the houses in the area where the two men have died and listened to the painful experience of mothers and fathers who’ve told us what happened and how they have experienced, with their children, the fear and the shock. We’re trying to stay close to our people, who knock on our door seeking help.
Our Center, indeed, hosts the families who live in the area, but also people from Midaan (who have sought help after the destruction of the church of Bicharat in Midaan). We’re hosting also the Maronite Christian Community who often celebrate Holy Mass during the week, after the destruction of their churches nearby. It’s a place where different parish groups meet for their weekly meetings and where there’s also a school for deaf-mute people: that’s one of the very few still-functioning specialized centers in Aleppo. Besides the welcoming and the mentioned human and spiritual service, we distribute water to the people from the well we have in the branch.
The Christian district of Midaan
Jihadists continued to fire missiles on the night between the 4th and the 5th of February, as counter-offensive to the advance of government forces and their allies. The explosions have affected the Midaan district, where the majority of the people are Christians. The destruction has been complete: the poor inhabitants who remain are homeless again.
Try to imagine what it means for the families living here, without knowing what will happen as during the night, missiles fall.. An old woman cried as she was telling me that people, during that night, didn’t know how to behave, what decision to take: “Is it better to leave home and run away, fearing to meet ‘sister death’ on the road or to stay at home and risk being killed by missiles?”
Some families decided to sleep in the cold, at the entrance of their houses, others under the stairs. Once, a woman knocked on our door seeking help, with her baby in her arms. She told me there still were people trapped under the rubble. She was crying for help, hoping that someone would come to help those poor people, but none had the courage to answer her pleas. The injured people remained there, and so did the corpses, for hours.
Why we remain.
But we do not surrender. We are suffering but we are not defeated. We have immediately brought food boxes to the damaged houses while visiting them with the engineer, and we started to fix them starting with the doors and the windows. For families who had their house completely destroyed, we helped with money to pay rent on another house for three months, with the possibility of renewing the payment. Lots and lots of scared people knock at our door, especially families with little children. The majority of them cannot even think of escaping, they don’t have any money, not even for transportation. In this situation there’s nothing left for me to do except offer shelter and listen. After that we have to start doing something, you can’t postpone aid…. but the work is huge and so is the need.
Water and prohibitive prices
There is still the big problem of water. While rockets were flying it was shocking to see people wandering looking for water. People are desperate and they face rockets, in order to collect some water from the faucets installed on the roads above the wells. The dollar is now 410 l.s. while yesterday it was 400. This means that the price of food has increased from one day to another, even those of basic things like vegetables. A lady told me that even monthly wages – for those that still have a job and a monthly wage – are not enough to buy a portion of vegetables for a day.
“How long oh Lord, will you forget me?” (i.e. Psalm 12)
In the sorrow of these days the psalm comes to my mind that says “How long oh Lord, will you forget me?”. Sometimes this question comes to me: “Has the Lord left us? Where is the Lord?” This is the moment in which our faith is completely shaken from its roots for all of us, the little flock that is left in Aleppo.
Christ asked to Saul “why you persecute me?” leaving a firm proof of His union with every part of His Holy body. He is here, suffering, on the cross and he does not “ look away while His people are suffering”. He is here in the middle of his people; He helps them and He assists them through the tender clemency and mercy of His pastors; even if lots of them are weary and embittered as they see what is happening to their flock. This is what it is for us, Franciscan monks. And this is why we stay here.