04/08/2020, 15.37
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Vicar of Aleppo: the hope of the Risen Christ, beyond the Holy Saturday of the coronavirus

In Syria churches are closed, masses and celebrations forbidden to the faithful who follow the functions "in their thousands" online. The illusion of the end of the conflict and the new health emergency, now "everything has stopped once more". Rediscover the value of the domus ecclesiae and the centrality of the sacraments.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - Churches closed, masses and celebrations prohibited to the faithful as in most of the world, but followed with attention and participation on the internet and the fear of a spread of the pandemic that could cause a "disaster" in a nation in its tenth year of war.

The Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo dei Latini, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen tells AsiaNews a Holy Week story that is a mixture of fear of the coronavirus threat and the desire to live the most important moment of the Christian liturgical calendar.

“The situation in the city, like in Syria, is similar to that in the rest of the world. Prevention measures and directives - adds the prelate - to contain the spread: currently we officially have 19 infections, three victims and as many recovered ".

To counter the Covid-19 epidemic, the government ordered a curfew from 6 p.m. to the same time in the morning; on Fridays and Saturdays it comes into effect at noon until 6 the next morning. The only activities open are pharmacies, bakeries, food shops and taxis for city transport. Now that public transport has been interrupted, there are no means of travel between cities and regions, which remain isolated from each other.

The population, says Msgr. Abou Khazen, "had drawn a little breath after the liberation and the end of the blind bombing of civilian neighborhoods". For a short period of time "the airport and the highway between Aleppo and Damascus had reopened, but now everything is closed down due to the virus. The moment we seemed to be returning to a normal life, everything was stopped again."

The fear of a spread is "high", continues the prelate, because 10 years of war have affected the health system "and 50% of hospitals are not functional or operative. A country in these conditions is not prepared "for the fight against the virus. "It would be a disaster - he says - and we hope it will not spread".

In the past, even during the worst years of the conflict, the celebrations of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Easter Mass "were packed with faithful. This year people are forced to stay at home, on what seems like an endless Holy Saturday where darkness seems to have taken over and Christ is entombed within the darkness of the Holy Sepulcher. " But, he adds, "as St Peter says he went down to hell to announce the resurrection ... this is the good news, this is our source of hope".

The vicar tells how the faithful want to "come to church, but it is not possible. We celebrate the functions behind closed doors and stream them live via the internet, where they have a huge following: thousands of contacts, up to six thousand at a time confirming the great participation. Every now and then - he continues - we open churches for confessions and visits of small groups "always keeping their distance. This, as they say in Arabic, is truly "a week of sorrows". Detachment, he confirms, “is the most difficult thing: it is bad to celebrate in an empty church, when we were used to seeing them packed even in times of war. We feel like a father who has lost his children, but in reality it is not as bad as that ... it is only a temporary distance".

Ten years of war, then the coronavirus emergency are an invitation to rethink "the country, the lives and the church: we must give more value to the domus ecclesiae (domestic church), more strength to the local Church, to put the sacraments at the center of our faith.

In many families the thirst for the sacraments is felt, this virus has not only united us but the world and has knocked down many walls ". "I was surprised by the solidarity of our people with Italy, the many prayers for the victims of the pandemic and for all the Italian people.”

“The message of the risen Christ - concludes the prelate - is an invitation not to lose hope, but to live these moments with joy despite the difficulties".

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