Letter from Syria: the Franciscans’ Christmas gift to the children of Aleppo | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Letter from Syria: the Franciscans’ Christmas gift to the children of Aleppo

Letter from the pastor of the Church of the Custody of the Holy Land in Aleppo

Christmas is upon us and many are wondering what gifts we Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land will give to the children of Aleppo. There are many gifts we could give them, but we wish to introduce you to one of the best. It is a post-school project aimed at psychological, academic and spiritual recovery for 150 little angels in Aleppo’s society, who were extremely wounded by the war. According to some, a generation that has experienced the war in Aleppo and that manifests disturbances of all kinds, a generation that can no longer follow teachers’ orders and that is struggling to learn in class is doomed and therefore defined as “non-recoverable.” Instead, for the Good Shepherd, everything is “recoverable.”

Faced with the perplexity of so many parents and schools that do not know how to deal with the “worst” students who cannot pass their exams, we set off to Aleppo, for another mission, which was considered impossible by many.

Ever since last year, there was a fire that burned inside of me: a concern for the future of so many children. But the Lord himself always puts a beautiful project before our eyes, in order to respond positively and actively to the needs of our society and our Church. And thus, we Franciscans in Aleppo, after walking with St. Francis, decided to adopt Don Bosco’s idea and to include some aspects of his spirituality.

With the dramatic situations faced by many children who need immediate assistance at all levels, due to the powerlessness of their families and parents, we now have an opportunity to step in.

With the help of many people of goodwill, we are financing an after-school project for 150 children, who are most affected by the scourge of war. Out of a total of 600 elementary school children, we want to work with the most fragile ones. Our project already began at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year and will last for nine months.
Some children that were chosen resisted because they sensed that the project was dealing with people with different types of issues. But then, thanks to the welcoming attitude of the faculty, leaders and specialists in various educational fields, the project has been immediately successful and we are already seeing the first miracles. We are talking about 65 people who made themselves available, which included 50 teachers, who were carefully selected to give personalized attention to the 150 children for three hours in the afternoon.
The project logistics manager often tells me how much effort is made in the recovery process. Some of the youth, particularly 15 of them, are so restless and resistant that it is difficult to deal with them. When we are able to enter into the personal life of each child, so much comes to light about the life of the youngster’s family, which is often torn and in need of healing.

We had wanted to do the same for thousands and thousands of Aleppo children and teenagers, who need care, but the challenge is much bigger than us. Covering a child in the post-school field, providing for his or her different needs, would cost $85 per month, but the value and result of a person’s recovery is worth much more than this amount.
We have each one of these little angels who lives in Aleppo under our care. Each of them has very big dreams and so much hope. Despite the fact that they also come with so many sad stories from these last six years, which will certainly leave a very deep mark on their personalities, the hope of a Church and of a society that yearns to rise again also remains in them. Each of them is a gift from on high: the “little brother” for whom Jesus gave his life. Indeed, for each of us, each child helped is the “Child born for us,” Jesus himself.

If a pastor is ready to give his life for one of these children, what will it be like for these 150? Imagine what would happen then for the almost 4,000 Christian children of Aleppo, who range from being one day old to 15 years old.
Jesus, we look gratefully at the mystery of your love that manifests itself today in the Incarnation. Let us meditate on your lowering yourself for us, on your presence in our land. In this season, just like every season, we await your coming, [and] we want to love you more and more, as well as every child who suffers in every corner of the earth.
We want to manifest our best feelings of love and tenderness, taking care of every child in Aleppo, like Mary did with you. Looking at each one, we see you, present in each of them. We want to welcome your life, protect it, promote it with all of your heart, with all of the creative intellect you have given us and with all of our strength, welcoming, protecting and promoting the life of each of these children in Aleppo.
Help us Jesus. Help us never leave any of them without all of the help, care and guidance they need.
Help us to be ready to give our lives for each of them, with courage and joy, as Mary and Joseph did for you.

Fr. Ibrahim Sabbagh
Pastor of the Church of St. Francis in Aleppo