11/28/2019, 00.00
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Archbishop of Damascus: Rediscovering faith in times of war and economic crisis

by Samir Nassar*

Lebanon’s political crisis is affecting Syrians in the country. It is impossible to withdraw money from local banks. The local currency has collapsed and dollars cannot be found. The consumer society has lost its appeal. A life of austerity is boosting solidarity and bonds between people. Russian tour operators organise trips to Syria. The Turkish offensive in north-eastern Syria continues to worry.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s political crisis, financial restrictions and international sanctions have hit Syrians already forced to endure years of hardship and deprivation caused by more than eight years of war, this according to Mgr Samir Nassar, Maronite archbishop of the Syrian capital, who wrote a note to AsiaNews. Still, he sees a “renewed spirit” despite the growing daily difficulties.

The situation, the prelate argues, "means that the people must once again get used to a life of austerity and greater solidarity”, like taking public transit or car-pooling to go work. Consumerism has lost its attractiveness, whereas faith has become a “dynamic witness”.

Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in north-eastern Syria remains a political headache, still causing more casualties and displacing more people. Whilst half of the 200,000 people initially displaced were able to return to their homes one month after the offensive started, tens of thousands are still stuck in precarious conditions with things bound to get worse as winter sets in and temperatures drop.

Despite the many signs of crisis and tensions that still come from Syria, two Russian tour operators have begun to offer visits to the country’s most important sights. La Miracle and Kilimanjaro offer tour packages for US,650 to Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra and Saidnaya. Since July Moscow and Damascus are linked by a direct flight.

In light of the above, Mgr Nassar’s note highlights the many hardships people face on a daily basis. Here is what he wrote to AsiaNews:

Welcome to a life of Austerity!

The banks in Lebanon have been lending money for 29 years to the State…. Now the State is bankrupt and unable to pay back.

The result of this is that individuals no longer have the possibility to take out more than US0 a week from their personal accounts. This applies also to the many Syrians and establishments who placed their money in the Lebanese banks so that they could avoid the blockage imposed by the Syrian regime on their accounts over the past 9 years.

What can one therefore do to help the 13 salaried workers and 600 assisted families at this time of Christmas? This is yet another problem to hit the population.

This financial problem imposed by the Iranian-American stronghold on the whole of the Middle East disturbs any hope of a peaceful solution. The local currency is falling rapidly in value against the dollar which is now becoming a rarity in circulation. We must remember that all imports of essential goods must be paid for in foreign currency.

This new situation means that the people must once again get used to a life of austerity and greater solidarity: Going to work sharing places in a car, or relying on public transport. Life is becoming bitter to bear.

The larger shopping places are almost empty, and family life has once more become a treasured gift; the same with faith, once more placed at the forefront of life, and a dynamic witness.

Can one speak of a renewed spirit forced by the economic crisis? Whatever is happening it is surely a new society which is growing around us on the eve of Christmas.

*Maronite Archbishop of Damascus

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