Aleppo: Christmas among Christian families broken by war, praying for peace

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by Giorgio Istifan
A young Christian from Aleppo victim of the Syrian conflict tells his story. He went from leading a normal life with a wife and daughter to one of unemployment and separation. The war has split his family; now he can see his wife and daughter only a few hours a day. Yet, the conflict has boosted his faith. For Christmas, he calls on Christians around the world to pray “for us, Christians of Syria.”

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – My name is Giorgio Istifan, and I was born in Aleppo in 1975. I am married with a young woman called Miriam, who has a degree in educational psychology. We have a daughter, Benita, who is one year and five months old. I belong to the Latin parish of St Francis of Assisi, in Aleppo. My wife and I got married on 5 November 2011. Our life together began with a lot of joy and serenity. We both had a job and led a quiet family life.

On 22 July 2012, Aleppo’s crisis began, starting in the suburbs and the surrounding villages, until it reached the city. In the first stage, I saw with my own eyes many families arrive in Aleppo from the villages. Soon after, the crisis affected the city and the tragedy began.

The first consequence was that I lost my job and any hope I had for a normal life ended there. After that, economic problems got worse. However, in our family we were sure that it would be a temporary crisis and that it would end soon. Instead, the war expanded and reached us, knocking at my door.

One day we woke up and saw fighters at about 100 metres from our building. Soon after, the army went on the offensive and pushed them back. The latter responded by shelling the residential area and our homes. Ours was hit by gunfire and once, by sheer miracle, we were spared. Yet, matters did not end there, two shells also hit our building and our neighbour was struck to the head by shrapnel. Frightened, we left the house in a hurry and took refuge with our parents. My daughter was not yet born at the time.

When Benita was born, there was no water, electricity, means to keep warm or gas in Aleppo. After the delivery and her presentation to the Lord in the church, we sustained more missile and bomb attacks and cheated death many times. What deeply hurt the heart was that, for many reasons, especially for the small size of our parents’ homes and our precarious economic situation, my wife and I had to split up and live with our respective parents. My daughter went with her mother, and we found ourselves living far from each other. What quarrels or misunderstandings could not do, namely divide us, war did. Unfortunately, at present we continue to live in this situation.

At this time, the Lord granted me the grace to get a job in the Church, as sacristan in my parish. Our family problems have not been solved, nor have those of the Christian community. In fact, they have gotten worse. Many Christian families have been scattered. We said goodbye to many friends and family members who left for the unknown. Some have ended up in a European country in search of peace or in a neighbouring country in search of work. My brother left for Lebanon with his family, but after a while, he left again for another country in search of bread to eat, and peace. All this is due to the fact that, in our beloved country Syria, there is neither peace nor security.

This period is very difficult. We leave home not knowing whether we will ever come back. Anything can happen in the streets. There are also dangers even in the home and in church. What happened to me recently is an example.

Just over a month ago, on Saturday, 8 November, at 7.15 pm, as I returned from work in the church, I went to my in-laws’ house, to see Miriam and Benita, whom I can see two or three hours a day. As I walked down the street, a mortar shell fell near me, at about three meters. Because of the explosion, a small piece of metal penetrated my left side, between the ribs: a few more centimetres and it would have hit the heart. I would have died in an instant. Instead, I was “only” wounded, and the pain continued to hurt for a while. The next day, Sunday, I went back to the church to thank my Lord for the miracle, and gift of life he had given me, once again, the previous day. I have nothing, except the hymn of thanksgiving through prayer, which is my only source of hope and patience to endure trials and suffering.

Life during the war in Syria has taught us Christians that faith is essential. As a result of this faith, there is trust in God. Despite the length and tragedy of this war, our faith has increased and so has our trust in the Lord. With the eyes of faith, we see every day the hand of God cure all of us, and take care of our daily needs. Even though we might suffer and experience gusts of wind, it seems that in this great storm of war, we are under the protection of great powerful wings. We are under His wings. Despite heavy rains, we have not drown but only felt a few drops fall upon us.

We are in the last days of Advent. My prayer goes up to God day and night so that he may return peace and security to my country and my city. I truly hope that, with the prayer of every Christian in the world, especially on the holy night of Christmas, the war will be forever buried, hatred erased and peace truly rule on earth.

I have another wish to ask of God, who loves me and became a small child in Bethlehem. I wish the Child born for us in a family will give my family and so many other families forced to be “separated” the warmth of living together, as well as the joy of being together as one family.

My fellow Christians around the world, all of you, I humbly ask you to pray for us, Christians of Syria.

Merry Christmas from my city of Aleppo.

(Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, Latin parish of Aleppo, contributed to this article),-praying-for-peace-33022.html