Jesus has words of caution for those who might wish to follow him: be ready to deny yourselves and take up your cross. That involves more than grasping the nettle of life that everyone has to grasp in order to grow. The cross will take its shape and weight in the circumstances that believers find themselves in life.
In a world driven by endless success, productivity and consumption, carrying the cross is deemed to be old fashioned and out of place. I offer this week a tiny window into a world where the cross is central. It’s a world of war and violence as experienced by the people of Aleppo, Syria, and recounted by an eye witness in a recently published book.
In his “Letters From Aleppo,” Franciscan priest Ibrahim Alsabach tells his story of survival and hope in the midst of the five year war between the Syrian government and what has come to be known as ISIS. Often writing as bombs fall around his monastery Fr. Ibraham tells how he and his parishioners live everyday life – in joy and sorrow, prayer and hope.
His story is one of people’s unflagging faith and hope in the cross and resurrection of Christ. After the bombing of his church during the distribution of communion at Mass, he wrote: ‘They send us death and we answer with life. They launch hatred at us and we offer love in exchange, through forgiveness and prayer for their conversion” – p. 41 (November 2015).
The handful of friars spend themselves from morning to night feeding the starving people, distributing drinking water and caring for the injured and frightened. “We made a very Franciscan pact never to accumulate anything for ourselves, emptying our pockets of even the little we collect, as Francis of Assisi showed us, to help those who suffer” – p. 44 (December 2015).
“Every day we see episodes of incredible suffering. We try to do what we can, to be close to the people, suffering with those who suffer and crying with those who cry” – p. 102. “One word describes the situation of the Christians and the whole Syrian people: chaos. Chaos reigns because there are many groups of jihadist militia, each of which controls a part of the city” – p. 110 (August 2015).
“This is the logic of faith… Like Jesus on the cross, we suffer. The darkness continues, but in our hearts reigns the certainty that our faith gives us strength to resist, dream of a better world and, above all, start to build it now” – p. 126 (May 2016).
“In the simple daily life that we all live here, signs are understood immediately: when an ill person receives a visit and words of affection accompanied by a blessing full of tenderness, he immediately understands that it is a sign that hope exists. When a very poor family receives money to cover the costs of giving birth, together with the new baby they will welcome into the world, this is a harbinger of hope. When a boy who has nothing to wear in winter is given a jacket as a present, he immediately understands the sign, and hope is born……” – p. 175 (December 2016).
Throughout the book, Father Ibraham tells how he and his people in war-torn Aleppo discover peace, forgiveness, hope and even joy in the midst of the hatred and brutality that’s directed against them, their parishioners and neighbors, and the parish church of St Francis of Assisi in Aleppo.
Fr. QQ 8/31/17