Baby Jesus came into the world in a historical moment torn by violence, deprivation, and suffering, similar to those that today afflict Syrians and other peoples of the Middle East. The light of his hope has lit up in the darkness and can illuminate even today the real lives of the people who live among the troubles of these difficult times. Instead, many Christians in Syria also allow themselves to be guided by selfishness and also use the ecclesial community as a kind of welfare network to be exploited, an agency at the service of their private interests. And this selfish individualism represents a sneaky trap that weakens and extinguishes the life of Middle Eastern Christian communities in the present time. Thus writes Bishop Georges Abou Khazen ofm, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo for Catholics of the Latin rite, in a Christmas letter full of considerations about the current condition of Christians in the Middle East.
Two thousand years ago – the Franciscan Bishop told Fides News Agency illustrating the key passages of his Christmas letter – Jesus came to a world marked by phenomena and conditions not very different from those in which we live today: crises, conflicts, wars. Misery and famine. Even at that time, there were migratory flows in Egypt, towards Rome, or towards Mesopotamia: Therefore, with what courage could the angels accept the birth of Jesus by singing the glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to men? It was possible precisely because the birth of God made man was not a fairy tale, and it was not fake news. It was a real event, which surprised and changed the hearts of the shepherds who came to see Baby Jesus, and urged them to tell others what they had seen”.
The novelty entered into the world with the incarnation of Christ – adds the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo – it is a promise of salvation that goes towards its fulfillment through difficulties, resistances, skepticisms, and indifferences of which the human history of men is full. And along the way, the miracle that can surprise the world is always that of hope lit in hearts touched and freed by the grace of Christ, even when the historical conditions are marked by suffering and misery. In this regard, Bishop Georges introduces precious references to the current condition of local Christian communities. Considerations that move away from the prevailing stereotypes in the global media mainstream.
At the time of the birth of Jesus – the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo points out – the angels did not announce that event admirable to a single individual, but to a community of shepherds. Throughout history, the wonder of the Christian event brings people together and transforms them into communities. Looking to the present, the Franciscan Bishop recalls that so many reasons and problems, also linked to the Syrian conflict, have contributed to weakening the local Christian communities in recent years. But then he indicates, as the determining factor of this weakening, the attitude of many to consider the community as a kind of organization at the service of his personal interests. “With great sorrow,” writes Bishop Georges, “I register the loss of the sense of community belonging in a certain number of adults, who unfortunately transfer this mentality to their children. We belong to the Church. If the Church remains united, the gates of hell will not prevail. And in the Christian community, each person is attentive to the good of others, before his own interest”. Instead, out of this experience, each individual becomes more fragile and vulnerable, also at the mercy of social communication tools (the Bishop explicitly gives the example of smartphones) that do not serve to bring people together but end up isolating each individual in his individualistic solitude.
Looking painfully at these processes of disintegration, Bishop Abou Khazen wishes everyone that it is precisely Christmas that also becomes an opportunity for inner conversion, “to remove all the selfish and individualistic ideas that have been instilled in us”. The unity of Christian communities – remarks the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo – is a surprising testimony for all those who, looking at Christians in communion with one another, can exclaim: “look how they love each other!” “It is a miracle”, adds Bishop Georges, “the miracle of love. We cannot reach it alone, but by the grace of God”. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”, says Jesus. We must ask for this blessing, seek it through small initiatives and simple gestures. In the spirit of the community, we feel safe”. Even when Jesus came into the world, “people walked in the dark, absent-minded, and the divine light, the light of faith, attracted them together and brought them together. I hope that we too can see this light and unite together under the banner of Christ, the Savior of the world”.