Fr Alsabagh says all but the poorest have escaped the city and an ‘eerie silence, like a cemetery’, fills the streets
A Franciscan priest in bomb-stricken Aleppo has called for the prayers of Christians worldwide, describing what he calls the worst violence since the Syrian conflict began more than five years ago.
Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Never, since the beginning of this terrible war, were things as bad as they are now. I have no words to describe all the suffering I see on a daily basis.”
He described seeing rockets and bombs falling on churches, mosques, schools and hospitals.
“So many houses have been partially or entirely destroyed, and so many people killed or severely injured.
“And when the bombs do stop falling, there is an eerie silence, like in a cemetery. The streets are as though everyone has died.”
Fr Alsabagh, who has been working in Aleppo in northern Syria for two years, added that Easter, which was celebrated by Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics in Syria on Sunday, had been a sad affair.
He said: “It was more like Good Friday than Easter Sunday. Although two liturgies were celebrated, they were very poorly attended.
“People were either burying their dead or else they stayed at home out of fear. It was depressing.
“When will the world community finally wake up and put an end to this new Sarajevo?”
The Franciscan added: “Whoever can escape, does so. On Sunday the roads out of the city were packed with refugees.
“Those who remain behind are the poorest of all, the ones who cannot even afford to look for a place of safety.”
Fr Alsabagh explained that the Church was providing vital aid to those caught up in the fierce fighting between the Syrian government and Islamist rebel militia groups.
He said: “We are helping them, wherever and however we can. Some of the people are living in half-ruined homes.
“We help them with repairs and support them, thanks to the help of ACN, with food, clothing, medicines, items of hygiene and other things.
“But now we really need any outside help we can get. We are in the greatest of need.”
Fr Alsabagh described increasing signs of psychological stress.
He said: “The nervous breakdowns are increasing, and we now have so many psychological illnesses as a result of the war. There is so much misery.
“But at least I thank God that through his grace I am able to be a good Samaritan to all the suffering people. I try to console them with the word of God, but also with deeds of corporal mercy.”
The priest described finding inspiration in the words of the Pope: “I always have in my ears the words of Pope Francis, that we must show people the tenderness of God.
“We priests and religious have really become fathers, and still more mothers, to the people, trying to bind up their wounds tenderly, like a mother.”
Fr Alsabagh compared the state of the 50,000 Christians remaining in Aleppo with the situation of St Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.
“St Paul was in prison on account of his faith, together with Silas. But they were liberated through their prayers. They turned that terrible prison into a place of prayer.
“That is what we Christians in Aleppo are also called to do. No matter how frightful this place is, yet we must still give Christian witness. We must not think only of ourselves.”
He added that although the cross that Christians are carrying is very heavy “it also creates a communion with God and with one another such as I have never seen before.
“My faith and my priestly vocation have grown here in Aleppo. I pray a great deal before the Tabernacle, that the Lord will support us.”
The Franciscan thanked the benefactors of ACN: “Without their generosity we could do almost nothing.
“Please be assured that every day prayers go up to God from the mouths of children, the poor and the elderly, that He may bless you for your help.
“Please continue to pray fervently for us, that we remain strong in faith and love. For this crisis is beyond our human strength.”
ACN has been helping the Church in Syria to provide the needy with food, clothing, accommodation and medication, as well as help for Christian refugees in neighbouring countries.
Since March 2011 when the conflict began, ACN has provided almost £8 million in aid for Syria – its largest ongoing aid package.