“It is not the first time they tried to attack our church, but so far there had never succeeded.” So Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, says Aid to the Church in Need fregarding the attack yesterday on his parish, the Church of San Francesco, in the district of Azizieh Aleppo.
During the 17.00 hours mass, a gas cylinder was fired onto the church dome. “Just then I was going to administer the Eucharist to the faithful. Suddenly everything started shaking and many pieces of debris fell into the church. There was so much dust that we could not see each other. ” Fortunately the gas tank did not explode on contact with the dome, but only a few seconds later, while it was already rolling along the roof. “If it had blown a hole in the dome, it could have caused a tragedy” – noted the Franciscan – “even if just the chandelier had fallen, it could have killed ten people. As I told my faithful, it is the mantle of the Virgin who protected us. “
Following the attack six people were slightly injured, while the structure was seriously damaged – part of the roof will probably have to be rebuilt. It is not clear who carried out the attack, but the gas cylinder was fired from the old part of the city, the territory in the hands of various jihadist groups.
“It is no coincidence that the attack occurred at Mass on Sunday evening, when there were 400 people in the church,” says Father Ibrahim, recalling several attempts to attack his parish which until now had only damaged the adjoining houses. There could be many motives behind the attack. These include the great efforts of Fr Ibrahim to promote interreligious dialogue, especially through providing assistance to the Syrians of all faiths: Christians and Muslims. “Some want to eliminate any sign of reconciliation and openness”, he says.
The motive for the attack is also probably linked to anti-Christian hatred. “Ours is the only church in the area that is still accessible. So many people come here to pray and perhaps this is why they have tried to destroy it. “
Although the faithful were in panic, father Ibrahim managed to keep calm. After checking that there were no serious casualties, he led his parishioners into the church garden where he reassured them and continue the mass by giving everyone communion. “Some were surprised at my reaction. But it is in the Lord that I find strength, in union with Him through prayer. He gives me the strength to go on, with even more energy now that we have to repair our church”.
The next day the faithful returned for the morning mass. “There were so many and once again we heard the sound of our bells with joy. We hope all this chaos will end and that soon we can speak of such incidents as something related to the past, without the fear that similar attacks could happen again at any time”.