Jan Karski Award to Fr Ibrahim, source of hope in a dead Aleppo without a future

The guardian of the Latin parish receives honour dedicated to the memory of the Polish lawyer and activist. Card Dziwisz handed over the award stressing the Franciscan’s devotion to the pastoral ministry of his city and people. Even today people in Aleppo suffer from the lack of water and electricity, from malnutrition and the lack of adequate medical facilities and care.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – "Being a sign of hope in a dead city, destroyed and 'without a future', means to draw hope from the Source of Life and Hope that is Jesus Christ. Indeed, many times, our eyes have seen the cruel reality [. . .]. In these very difficult moments, only the hope in God who loves human being, created in His image and likeness, who by His fidelity doesn’t abandon His creature but tenderly cares for her strength to move forward,” said Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, a 44-year-old Franciscan, guardian and parish priest of the Latin Parish of Aleppo, who won the Jan Karski Eagle Award for 2017, a prize dedicated to the memory of the famous Polish lawyer and activist.

The award ceremony (pictured) was held a few days ago in Krakow, Poland, in the presence of the local archbishop emeritus. Card Stanisław Dziwisz, the former personal secretary to Saint John Paul II during his long pontificate.

According to the official motivation, the clergyman received the award for “bringing hope in a world where there’s no hope left”.

The prize was established by Jan Karski's expressed wishes in 2000, shortly before his death, and has been assigned to individuals for outstanding "humanitarian service" to others.

Historian, lawyer, diplomat, during the Second World War, the Polish activist was among the first to report Poland's tragedy under Nazi rule, in particular the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the mass deaths in German concentration camps.

In his thanksgiving speech, sent to AsiaNews, Fr Ibrahim noted that the prize is "an encouragement for me in this battle for my people, in my mission to bring help, consolation, hope".

He stressed that he felt a "moral duty" during this period to "make known to the whole world the tragic situation" of the Syrian people by offering "my life and all that I have".

For a long time, the clergyman served as a witness and a voice of the Syrian conflict and Aleppo’s tragedy. For years, the city was the epicentre of the Syrian conflict, split into two separate sectors, until the final liberation last December.

Fr Ibrahim turned his thoughts to Poland, " a country that has become very close” to him because of the holy and beloved personality of His Holiness John Paul II.

“With his personal history,” he added, he followed the “history of the immense suffering of an entire people,” and “the history of a Church persecuted for its fidelity to its Master”.

"In my path to defend hope in Aleppo, the person of Jan Karski is close to me because of his sensitivity to the suffering one."

“The history of the Syrian people is quite similar to the history of the Polish people, which suffered for a time. [. . .] Many [. . .] Syrian people and families have lost everything, like Job in the Bible, in one moment, the completion of their entire lives: home, family, their health”.

About “70 per cent of families are displaced, without shelter. . . The war around the city continues”. At night, “we hear the bombing and the noises of the shootings . . . from time to time the main road leading to Aleppo is cut off by the fighting.”

Even today people suffer from the lack of water and electricity, from malnutrition and the lack of adequate medical facilities and care.

Before the war, Aleppo was Syria’s largest industrial town, providing 60 per cent of the country's output. Today, it is "paralyzed" and unemployment is high.

Ninety-three per cent of families need help to survive. “The greatest price of this war is paid by the most vulnerable, the most fragile: children. Some of them know no other life than war.”

As he handed the award to Fr Ibrahim, Card Dziwisz noted that, “apart from considering the role and duties of the awarded as a priest and a man of God,” the prize “is being awarded for his ‘bringing hope in a world where there’s no hope left’.”

The cardinal added that "although he was offered a safe place in Europe, he decided to go back to his motherland, to a Syria being trapped into a war in years. He has returned, putting his own life in peril, to consecrate his existence to doing pastoral care in Aleppo, which is yet a Syrian city bombed and shelled day and night, virtually without all that is necessary to survive”.

“Fr Ibrahim’s decision,” said the archbishop emeritus of Kraków, “was based not on patriotism only, but mostly on the belief that, as a priest and a shepherd, he couldn’t abandon his flock in need. ‘No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’.” (DS)