Inés San Martín | Crux Now
Father Ibrahim Alsabagh speaks to his community in the Latin Parish of St. Francis in Aleppo, Syria. (Courtesy of Latin Parish of St. Francis via Crux)
It’s been almost nine years since the beginning of the war in Syria, and a local priest says the situation in the war-torn city of Aleppo continues to worsen, becoming ever more “dramatic.”
In a letter sent to a group of his Italian contributors- one of whom forwarded it to Crux – Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh said that he is beginning to feel like “there is no future for the Middle East,” because “the interests of the powerful are obvious, and Syria continues to be the battleground of the great nations.”
“I apologize, I know it’s been a long time since the last time I wrote, the motive is very simple: I don’t know where to begin,” wrote the priest, from the Latin Parish of St. Francis in Aleppo. “In the west side of the city the bombing continues, and they once again approach our region. There are still many civilians dying.”
“But it is the people who continue to pay in all this, who continue to suffer, infinitely,” Alsabagh wrote, while denouncing the “normalization” in weapons sales, the destruction of countries and foreigners seizing the natural resources of Syria.
“This world is not good,” he wrote.
He didn’t mention any specific “foreign powers,” but it’s long been alleged that the war in Syria is not only a war against the terrorist organization known as ISIS, but also a proxy war for Russia and Iran, both supporting Bashar al-Assad Assad, against the United States and Turkey, both supporting various rebel groups.
The Pentagon has troops in the country conducting anti-ISIS operations, and there are no plans for withdrawal at this point.
Assad has long called for the U.S. to pull out, considering it an occupying force as he waged his anti-insurgency campaign, which is backed by Russia and Iran. Assad’s regime, along with many insurgent groups, are accused of war crimes.
Instead of withdrawal, the U.S. is preparing a bipartisan sanctions package which was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
According to Alsabagh, the war is continuing in Aleppo. He claims the country’s natural resources, including its gas and oil, are unavailable to the population, amidst a “rigidly cold” winter.
In addition, there are many seriously ill people unable to receive treatment, including cancer patients.
“Syria and its people continue to survive missiles and bombs, but we do not know if they will survive the ongoing hunger pangs,” the priest wrote.
The region, he insisted, is at the center of many competing interests and in the crosshairs of several religious, economic and political tensions, fueled by wars of domination and power.
“It is as if the Middle East, where our peoples live, has to pay for the evil that exists right now all over the world,” he wrote. “But the culprits are many other countries. There was a wall in Berlin. Many walls have been built in Syria. And there’s no visible end for the war.”
The Franciscan wrote than in other moments of history it seemed there was no possible human salvation, peace or stability, but in these moments “the Lord sends a prophet of his, who invites the peoples to raise the eyes of the heart, with a farsighted gaze aimed at the horizon, to hope for the salvation that comes from above.”
“Man cannot save himself, God himself intervenes in the history of humanity to bring salvation,” he wrote. “In this salvation we believe and hope, the salvation that comes from above.”
Yet God’s salvation passes through human hands, made of mud and human hearts, made of flesh, like the heart and body of Mary and Joseph, he wrote.
Beyond the country’s own instability, the crisis in Lebanon has further suffocated the Syrian economy, with banks blocking churches from accessing the foreign aid they have received.
“During these years we have always tried not to stop the projects started to help the population, but now we have reached a point of extreme need,” Alsabagh wrote. “In the last few days we have managed to arrange the distribution of clothes for 800 children, and we are preparing some small celebrations for Christmas, but nothing more.”
He compared the current situation his parish faces to his own childhood. When his parents would run out of money at the end of the month, they would go “in search of a treasure” forgotten in a drawer.
“We have reached this point now,” the priest wrote, but now there are no hidden treasures left in the drawers.
“We are no longer able to continue with our projects. On Christmas, everything will have to be rationed, even the chocolate we have for the children,” he said.