Fr. Bahjat Karakach, from the church of San Francisco de Asís, compares the houses of the people with the cave where Jesus was born, a “dark and cold” place. Children suffer and parents feel powerless because they can’t do anything. The “light of faith” to revive a dying nation. Christian NGO organizes a raffle to deliver gifts to children and people without resources.
Aleppo () – The houses where Christmas was celebrated in Aleppo are very similar “to the grotto where Jesus was born: a dark and cold place, where children suffer and parents are desperate because they feel imposing”. In a reflection that he sent to on the occasion of the holidays, Fr. Bahjat Karakach, parish priest of the church of San Francisco de Asís, raises a cry of alarm about the situation in which the city that was the economic and commercial capital of Syria before the war finds itself. The priest extends his gaze over a country that “seems dying” and “shows no signs of improvement.” His words confirm a reality marked by the conflict and international sanctions that have detonated the “poverty bomb”, where children are forced to rummage through the garbage to survive.
Right now around 90% of the Syrian population -according to official data, although the situation on the ground could be much worse- lives in poverty on less than two euros a day. There are more than 6.5 million children in need of urgent humanitarian aid, the highest number since the war began in March 2011; an entire generation struggles hard every day to survive. Added to them are the 12.4 million people who find themselves, according to UN estimates, in a daily condition of “food insecurity.”
“After having suffered an insane war for 10 years, a war that sowed fear and destruction, today we find ourselves -says the Aleppo priest- in even worse conditions: cold, poverty, lack of electricity and fuel for heating or gas for cooking, deterioration of the local currency and a strict economic embargo”. The consequences of the disaster, he continues, “affect the poorest sectors of the population, people who stayed and did not jump into the sea with their children to escape of death, but who must face a slower death”.
However, the priest does not stay in the critical situation, in the darkness of the grotto, but looks at the Child Jesus as a sign of hope: “The good news that the Gospel speaks of is announced to us by Saint John: ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There is a stronger light – continues Fr. Karakach – that the darkness of evil: it is the light of faith that drives thousands of people to live the Gospel in a coherent and concrete way”. The Christmas party teaches that God is “extremely concrete”, a man that “we can hear , see and touch”. In the world there are still “many bearers of light, who illuminate the darkness of our harsh conditions”.
A sign of hope are the donations of those who do not give in to despair but intercede for their neighbor – a “suffering people” – and place themselves at their service. Those who perform these gestures resemble the Magi who “offer their gifts to the Child Jesus.” Like them, says the parish priest, “you also give us closeness, friendship, interest in our suffering. Even if they do not have the ability to overcome distances, as the Magi did, they spare no effort so that we can survive and keep hope”. From Aleppo, which “lies in darkness”, he concludes, and “from the heart of its families shivering with cold […] We want the whole world to be invaded by the light and warmth of the Savior”.
One of the initiatives carried out during this Christmas party by Christian organizations and associations is the SOS Chrétiens d’Orient raffle, which began on December 14 and will end with the final draw on January 22. Hundreds of numbers have been sold so far and the proceeds will be used to give a gift to children and the poor, but above all to the elderly. A gift for the holiday but above all to strengthen ties with a community relegated for too long and forgotten in suffering.