Vicar of Aleppo: notwithstanding COVID-19 and sanctions, Christmas will be simple but with strong participation
For Archbishop Abou Khazen, “Sanctions kill more than bombs”. Embargo and Caesar Act have an even greater impact than the novel coronavirus. Families are increasingly poor, and wages are devalued as inflation increases. The season will have few lights and decorations, but “great participation”. The Pope's visit to Iraq is a source of courage.
Aleppo (AsiaNews) – Christmas in Syria will be “simple”, a reminder of the Holy Family in the Bethlehem grotto “with few lights and decorations”, but with “churches packed” by the faithful against the tragic backdrop “of sanctions, which kill more than bombs during the war,” this according to Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins.
Speaking to AsiaNews about the atmosphere during Advent in the largest city in northern Syria, a major battleground during the civil war until it was liberated in December 2016, the prelate said that “we have eliminated official receptions” because it would have been “impossible to stand for five hours and extend our best wishes to religious and government officials during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mass will be celebrated though, followed by greetings at the church door with masks, spacing and sanitisers.”
In what was northern Syria’s business hub, this year’s festivity will be toned down, not so much out of fear of contracting the novel coronavirus than the result of sanctions and the embargo by the United States and Europe. “In addition to the usual punitive measures, the Caesar Act imposed by the US affects people in everyday life, along with inflation.”
The birth of Jesus is always “a source of hope and joy. However, in Syria today there is little to celebrate. not so much because of the virus than of the general impoverishment of the population.”
“Once a euro was traded at 50 Syrian pounds, now it is at 3,600. Wages have remained the same, prices have soared with huge queues at bakeries for a piece of government-rationed bread. The cold is coming, and many families have not even received their share of fuel.
“In the past, even during the war, a gas cylinder arrived every twenty days while today it is at least 60. Light comes on for an hour and a half, then disappears for nine; cars queue for petrol and so on.”
“Despite the siege and bombs, Christmas during the war did not present the same difficulties,” said the prelate. “It was perhaps easier for people to meet the needs of daily life. Today many things are not available, from fruit to meat, which remains a dream for the vast majority.”
The Western block, led by the United States, realised “that it could not win the war militarily, so it chose to choke Syria economically. This is a crime against humanity because these people are not guilty,” said Bishop Abou Khazen. “Furthermore, it is not true that the fighting is over; what is certain is that poverty has increased, and medicines are in short supply, made worse by the pandemic.”
Syria is “rich in wheat, mineral resources, oil, and gas, especially in the US-controlled Northeast controlled, which it cannot use even to heat private homes.”
In this context, “unlike in many other countries, the coronavirus is not 'the' problem but one of the many we have to face. Those who can work to keep the family going.”
Pope Francis is one of the few people raising their voce to speak on behalf of Syria through his repeated calls for peace, the latest on 11 December at a meeting of 50 Catholic agencies.
“The pontiff always speaks in favour of the Syrian people, and the strong and courageous decision to visit Iraq can have positive implications for us too because it sends a strong message to the world, especially to those who want to undermine state and society.
“The best Christmas present would be to cancel the sanctions against the Syrian people.”