the ecumenism of solidarity in the midst of war and poverty

On June 28, Pope Francis accepted Msgr. Abu Khazen’s resignation due to age limit. In recent years he has experienced the conflict, the bomb of poverty and emigration in the first person. He speaks to about the “darkness of death”, which is opposed by the “compromise with which he is at the side”, even between Christians and Muslims. He invites us to continue bearing witness to the faith and not lose the link with the land.

Aleppo () – He experienced first-hand the worst years of the war, which was followed by the “poverty bomb” that still affects the population, aggravated by international sanctions that prevent recovery. But in this terribly critical climate there has also been an experience of the “light of charity, of solidarity” and “of the ecumenism of necessity”, which has led the various Churches to unite and collaborate. The Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo for the Latins, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, spoke to about the reality of his diocese. On June 29, Pope Francis accepted his resignation due to age limit and appointed the Franciscan Raimondo Girgis OFM, currently vicar general, as apostolic administrator of the vacant see, in the city that was the economic and commercial capital of Syria. “The worst stage of the conflict is behind us -says the prelate- but the situation remains difficult. It is not easy to put bread on the table every day and many times people feel powerless and desperate”.

“Food is not lacking -he continues- but it is very expensive, the salary has remained the same, but before one euro was equivalent to 55 Syrian pounds and today to 4,500. There is also no work, most families have to struggle to gather the minimum necessary to buy a little bread. There is a great fatigue, the invitations to emigrate multiply. For many it would be impossible to survive without help, and Christians without the presence of the Church. They would have literally died of hunger or disease, because many medicines cannot be imported due to sanctions. Not to mention gas, gasoline… that’s why the first step is to soften the punitive measures and promote investments, projects, give perspectives for the future that stop the exodus”.

Bishop Abou Khazen was born on August 3, 1947 in Aïn Zebdeh, Lebanon. He entered the Franciscan congregation when he turned 25, on August 3, 1972, and professed perpetual vows when he received priestly ordination on June 28 of the following year. Pope Francis named him Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo on November 4, 2013, after the resignation of Msgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro. The episcopal ordination took place on January 11, 2014, at the hands of the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Card. Leonardo Sandry.

More than 11 years after the start of the war in the spring of 2011, the situation in Aleppo, as in all of Syria, remains difficult, although the bloodiest stages seem to have passed and the attention of the international community is focused elsewhere. , especially in Ukraine, where “a new Syria” is under way. To date, there are nearly 400,000 victims (more than 300,000 civilians), dozens of cities have been leveled, and half the population survives as internally displaced persons or refugees. The most serious is the economic crisis and the lack of work, with a very high level of unemployment, especially among young people. 85% of the population lives below the poverty line, which is equivalent to more than 14 million people out of a total population of just over 18 million. They need subsidies and inflation has caused prices to skyrocket. The consequences of the economic crisis and the war are aggravated by Western sanctions such as the Caesar Act, which mainly affects the poor and ordinary people.

“The Christian community – explains Bishop Abou Khazen – lives the same difficulties as everyone else. We as churches try to help people stay, but how can you retain a father of a family who gets up at 4 in the morning and queues for bread that he can get, perhaps, at 9, and then he’s going to work.” In this critical situation “we have experienced a de facto ecumenism, meeting once a month with bishops and religious leaders of different denominations and Christian rites. We have promoted projects, helped families, launched health plans and scholarships, from primary school to university, four soup kitchens for the poor, bags of food… We contribute to giving a little light and hope, with an ecumenical spirit.

Of these years as vicar he points out “the darkness of war, death and destruction, sharing suffering”. And also the “beauty of solidarity”, even between Christians and Muslims, “the commitment to the person next to you”. Of his people he says that he has learned the value of “patience and faith”, that they never wavered and were “the force that saved us”. In the coming weeks the transfer will take place and then the vicar would like to retire to a convent in Lebanon, but not before addressing a last greeting to the community: “I want to thank you – he concludes – and tell them to continue on their way, remaining united to their land and bearing witness to their faith.

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Written by Editor TLN

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