03/25/2016, 16.35
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Pastor of Aleppo: Easter is peace and mercy for war wounded communities

Fr. Ibrahim tells AsiaNews about a special community that beautifies the churches "with flowers and decorations". Visiting the sick and families "broken" by the conflict. The fragile truce source of "new hope". After years on Easter Monday a trip scheduled for catechism classes. For the priest, the war "has brought so many families back to the Church".

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The Christian community of Aleppo approaches Easter "preparing liturgies" decorating "churches with flowers and ornaments prepared by young people; we are trying to involve all the faithful, especially those who have suffered, people who have had deaths, broken families whom we have tried to take care of from not only a material point of view, but also with psychological and spiritual support". It’s a celebration of peace, mercy and reconciliation that the Christians of Aleppo are awaiting in a city battered by five years of bloody conflict.

44 year old Franciscan Fr. Alsabagh Ibrahim  is theparish priest of the Latin parish of Aleppo.  He tells AsiaNews about the "fragile truce" in the Syrian conflict, "has allowed people " to breathe, instilling new hope". After months electricity and water have been restored, the situation has improved, and this has brought relief to residents.

In the period of Lent and Holy Week "children and youth" of the parish are organizing celebrations: "Yesterday they prepared the liturgy  - says Fr. Ibrahim - and the little ones closely followed the gesture of the washing of the feet by the bishop. A ritual that teaches them about the meaning of authority and the value of responsibility ". Also yesterday a procession was held and the young children were "delighted" to "carry the candles".  “On Palm Sunday they did the same. Today we celebrate the Way of the Cross – he  adds - while tomorrow there will be baptisms” and the children will be involved in the community initiatives.

To make celebration of young and old even more joyous, especially for those who have suffered the most from the war, the parish decided to distribute sweets and foods for the celebration: "Two weeks ago - said the priest - we realized that there were no chocolates, eggs, meat in the homes. So we organized a small celebration in the parish hall, where a corner will be reserved for children to paint the eggs and prepare the decorations, under the careful guidance of the scouts ".

In the year of Mercy, the Aleppo community  also wanted to stress the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation: "The faithful – says Fr. Ibrahim - feel called to go and draw from the fountain of mercy, to approach the washing of feet, adoration and confessions. At each function churches are full of believers”.

Of course, he said, the faithful "are waiting for better times" but "are full of gratitude" for what has been done. "The people alone cannot sustain themselves - he continues - because there are no jobs, prices are high, there is not always electricity. The support the Church has given in recent months is immense and there they are grateful, they see it as a sign and gesture of mercy. The many initiatives include repairing war-damaged houses, payment of bank debts, the distribution of food, water tanks, etc ... all things made possible thanks to the commitment of the Church and the contribution of many benefactors".

In recent weeks the Latin Vicariate of Aleppo has insisted that it is necessary to involve the faithful in the preparation of celebrations, to understand the value of sacrifice. During Lent parishioners "visited the elderly and sick, put aside small amounts of money and other goods, to offer them to the poorest", under the slogan: "There is always a dish, an object or well in more to give. Everyone, including the poor, must be involved and donate to those who are even poorer ".

On March 21st, Mother's Day was celebrated. For the occasion, the youth have distributed more than 200 packets of sweets to the neighborhood mothers. Mothers who live alone because the children escaped and the husband is not there, and widows, some of them young  with children. A distribution that involved all mothers, without distinction between Christian and Muslim, because "a mother is everything," said the priest.

Finally on Sunday, there is the solemn celebration presided by the Apostolic Vicar of the Latins, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen, with the participation of the whole community, which will be followed by the traditional exchange of greetings. The next day, after a few years in which the initiative was "suspended because of the war", the catechism classes and their families (600 people) will go to the College of the Holy Land, where there is "a large outdoor plaza where we will celebrate Mass; then share a packed lunch". The war, the crisis, have "destroyed many families and people," says Fr. Ibrahim, yet "so many families have returned to the Father, to the Church, because of mercy. It has awakened in them something forgotten and abandoned, this is why we are celebrating this joy and we are happy to live this communion and witness. "(DS)

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