SYRIA – Christians are returning to Aleppo
Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh says that 15 families of the Latin rite Catholic community have already returned to the Syrian city of Aleppo and that many others are hoping to return, reports Josue Villalón.
During a recent visit to the war-torn and widely devastated city of Aleppo in Syria, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest of the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi – the centre of the Latin Catholic community in the city – assured them of support. “We are very happy to confirm that in the last two months or so 15 families of the Christian community of the Latin rite have returned to Aleppo. One family returned from France, another from Germany, three from Venezuela and several others from Armenia,” Fr Ibrahim said.
The total number of Christian families of other denominations and rites who have returned to Aleppo is as yet unconfirmed, but it is hoped that hundreds will return in the next few months. “A number of families who have returned from Armenia or Venezuela are telling us that all the families there also wish to return. For example, over 400 families who found refuge in Armenia are now hoping to be able to return. It is notable that when the Church helps these families, they feel more secure and are willing to return home,” Father Ibrahim explained.
Other Christian families from Aleppo who have returned to their homes have come from within the country, from other cities such as Latakia, Tartus and Marmarita. “The prices in these regions are also increasing rapidly; consequently, as the situation stabilises in Aleppo, these internally displaced families are preferring to return to their own homes,” he continued.
The situation in Syria’s second city has improved in recent months since full control of it was taken by the government forces of Bashar al-Assad at the end of December 2016. “Although there are still some suburbs on the outskirts of the city that are in dispute, the bombings have ceased and security has returned to the streets. Nevertheless, the consequences of the war are still very much present. The people have been left profoundly impoverished. There is a shortage of work and wages are minimal, owing to the devaluation of the currency. There are only two hours of electricity a day and food prices have gone through the roof. Before the war one dollar was equivalent to 50 Syrian pounds, but today it is equivalent to 550 Syrian pounds,” explained Fr Ibrahim, the Franciscan Father of the Custody of the Holy Land.
“The situation in Aleppo is certainly better today. There is security in the streets and in the churches. But at the same time we are beginning to suffer the consequences of the war – the poverty, the shortages of food and other essential family needs, and numerous signs of trauma as a result of the war”, he continues.
“The principal needs of the people are on the one hand help with the cost of food, electricity and healthcare. But at the same time we are helping with the rebuilding of the city, which means not only helping to rebuild people’s homes but also supporting education and the formation of the young, so that they can have a future.”
Father Ibrahim Alsabagh expressed his thanks for the aid offered by the international charity Aid to the Church in Need for the rebuilding of 270 homes, for 170 scholarships for primary, secondary and university education and for the training of 2000 young people and adults so that they can find work. The families who have already returned tell us that they are happy that the Church is helping so many people”, he said.
The aid provided by the Custody extends not only to the community of the Latin rite but also Catholic families of other rites, Orthodox Christians and even Muslims. “Christ urges us to help everyone, regardless of their creed”, Father Ibrahim insisted.
He offered thanks to everyone from outside who is helping to provide this aid. “I am most grateful. On behalf of all the Christians of Aleppo and all the families of the Latin rite I want to express to you my most sincere thanks. We are praying for all of you that you may always have peace in your hearts and in your countries and that you may never have to go through the terrible experience that we have witnessed here in Syria.”