At the end of the Spiritual Exercises in the town of Ariccia (near Rome) Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for Syria and donated 100 thousand Euros to the poor people of Aleppo, thanks to the contribution of the Roman Curia. The donation will arrive through the Custody of the Holy Land. SIR contacted by phone the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land and Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo for Latin rite Catholics, Monsignor Georges Abou Khazen, asking him to comment on the news.
Your Excellency, this morning, at the end of the Spiritual Exercises in Ariccia Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for Syria and sent 100 000 Euros to the poor of Aleppo thorough the Custody of the Holy Land … We are very happy and we can’t wait to tell our faithful living here in the city. The news was broken to me by my confrere, Fr Giulio Michelini, called by Pope Francis to lead the spiritual Exercises of the Roman Curia. He had the idea of reading, during the meals, some pages from the book of the parish priest of Aleppo Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, titled “Un istante prima dell’alba” [“An instant before dawn”] an account of war and hope from Aleppo.
Once again Pope Francis expressed closeness to his “beloved Syria” … The Holy Father has always been close to Syria, and he closely follows the situation in the Country. His appeals to dialogue, mercy, understanding, are continuous, as are his prayers. I believe that the situation in Syria is slowly improving also thanks to his prayers. Today we received this further token of concrete closeness; we are deeply grateful to him.
Thank you, Holy Father!
What is the meaning of this gesture? We don’t feel alone. We don’t feel abandoned. We know that we are members of a large family that is the Church of Christ. This gives us courage and hope, along with the strength to endure many difficulties.
I hope that this gesture may be received by diplomacies as a message to find a just, peaceful solution to this war that nobody wants.
What is the situation in the city today, after more than two months since the liberation of the Western part?
There are signs of improvement, especially in terms of security.
In the past few days electricity has returned in some areas of the city. Now we are waiting for water supply, since the Iraqi army retook the water-pumping station in the district of al-Khafsa in Aleppo, where are located major water wells. However, the situation remains critical especially in terms of humanitarian aid and healthcare. The prices of medicines escalated by 300%, the situation is very hard for those in need of treatment, while the wages of those who still have a job are extremely low.
How are you planning to use this money?
Homes and jobs: those are the priorities.
The gift of the Holy Father could be used for job-creation projects. If the father of a family manages to work and rebuild his home, he will remain in Aleppo. We hope that the reconstruction of the city starts soon. It will bring many jobs. Unfortunately many Christian families continue leaving the Country. Before the war 185 thousand Christians of all rites lived in Aleppo. It was a very lively community, actively engaged also at social level. Today there are half as many. Catholics represent a very small group. Some remained as a matter of principle – this is their homeland – others because they lacked the possibilities to emigrate. I hope that this gesture of the Pope, the closeness of the entire Church, may encourage many of our families to return.