The prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches is on an official visit to the Arab country from 25 October to 3 November. This includes meetings with the authorities and faithful, prayers and solidarity initiatives. For Fr. Ibrahim, his presence “is a call to remain rooted in this land”, despite an exodus that reduced the Christian population to a quarter.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, is currently in Syria.
His visit to the Mideast country “is a call to remain rooted in this land” and an expression of solidarity with a “body whose members are in suffering,” said Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, speaking to AsiaNews.
For the 50-year-old Franciscan, custodian and pastor of the Latin parish of Aleppo, the prelate’s presence “can give us strength, especially at the level of communion between the various Churches and Christian confessions.”
In fact, “The various scheduled meetings with the various rites, confessions and humanitarian groups that provide aide must push the Churches to be more united.
“Only by responding together will we be able to overcome the challenges that concern faith, charity, and respond adequately to the ongoing crises.”
Card Sandri is in the Arab country from 25 October to 3 November, and his agenda includes numerous meetings with the authorities, religious officials, Church leaders, but above all with communities of faithful eager to feel the closeness and affection of the emissary of Pope Francis.
The goal of the trip is, in fact, to bring the pontiff's "comfort, solidarity and closeness" to a country tormented by over 10 years of wars, a nation that is dealing with the ruins of the past and reconstruction work that is struggling to take shape due to the outbreaks of violence, sectarian tensions and the health emergency triggered by the pandemic.
Scheduled for April last year, the visit was postponed due to COVID-19. Now that it is underway, with stops in Damascus, Tartous, Homs, Aleppo, Yabroud and Maaloula, it is full of meetings, Masses, prayers with the different Christian confessions and charities serving an exhausted population.
The first stop on Tuesday was in Damascus, where the cardinal met with the Greek-Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi. This was followed by greetings to Card Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria since 2008, who never abandoned the country during the years of war, even in its darkest moments, but stood by it with his “attentive presence”.
The cardinal brought a substantial amount of money from the Vatican to the various Catholic jurisdictions in the country to help cope with the greatest needs, which each bishop will identify.
“Syrians live in inhumane, unbearable conditions, exhausted, with a suitcase in hand and ready to go,” Fr Ibrahim explained. “In 10 years of conflict, the Christian population has shrunk to a quarter of what it once was.”
Churches are "decimated" and the effects of the war are compounded by the effects of "hunger, restrictions and economic sanctions”.
There are shortages of everything, “from heating oil and car fuel to edible oil and bread, which now have unsustainable prices. A worker struggles for a month and, with his salary, barely manages to buy bread after long lines.”
Amid this climate of “waiting and concern", Sandri’s visit “follows the many statements in favour of the Syrian people and Church made in recent years by the pope.”
On the one hand, “we are very happy for the presence of someone who has great experience in humanitarian crises. We can entrust ourselves to him, feeling consoled, and we can welcome him with joy and affection.”
On the other hand, “we can listen to his every word to strengthen a faith that has been severely tested. Around us we see so much despair” because "the war continues" and the country “remains divided” in the face of a crisis that can be resolved “only at an international level, with the good will of all the players involved.”