My dear Brothers,
and Friends of the Franciscan family,
May the Lord give you peace! It is with a feeling of great joy that I send you greetings of Christmas and New Year! We live at a time in history where storm clouds are appearing on every horizon, bringing with them tremendous suffering and uncertainty. The crisis of our brothers and sisters who are ‘on the run’ from their home countries – more than 65 million – reveals the depth of human suffering, and also the limits people are placing on hospitality and compassion.
This is especially true in parts of the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. We cannot run away or escape from the demands that our humanity and our faith make on us. Nor can we run from the responsibility of altering our lifestyles so that our Mother Earth, our common home, might be respected and safeguarded.
The Incarnation invites us to open wide the doors of our hearts and our friaries, demonstrating justice and charity to every living creature. It is in this way that we welcome the infant of Bethlehem, the light of the world: Jesus.
I would now like to share with you a letter I received from a family living in Aleppo. They have suffered so much because of war and violence, but they continue to reach out for life, love, hope, and for the star that still shines rightly in the East.
Our names are Toni, Roula and Edma — father, mother and young daughter, a Christian family born and raised in Aleppo.
Since the beginning of this war, over five years ago, our circumstances have totally changed. Back then we lived in prosperity, peace, and tranquility …
Now, unfortunately, we live in fear and sorrow, surrounded by a war that deeply affects every one of us. In addition to the lack of drinking water, electricity, and medical care, the thing that causes most suffering are the missiles falling on our houses, hospitals, and schools …
Three times we have had to move house because of the destruction caused by missiles; we fled from one house to another one, and from that to another, and even then, we had to leave home once more.
The third time we had just moved in when the missiles struck … it was only by a miracle that my daughter escaped being killed.
We ended up with a house that was half-destroyed and needing repair… In that desperate situation, we really felt like the Holy Family We were like Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary, going from house to house in Bethlehem, and finding nowhere to stay.
But it was in those very difficult circumstances that the Church, our Mother, came to be with us, and showed herself to be close to all who suffer. We experienced love and received practical help through rescue and support projects. The Aleppo Church, like the family of Nazareth, gave us a welcome. The church itself is a poor and simple place, but people receive a warm welcome, and are provided with shelter and protection … The warm welcome, and the help given without delay, allowed us to once again feel some peace. Just like the Holy Family, the best was brought out in us: Jesus.
My mind turns to little Nativity scene and the large Christian family spread all over the world, poor enough as regards power or weapons but strong and rich in the Lord …
I think of families throughout the world … To all of you, Christians, … I send wishes of a Holy Christmas and a happy New Year.
I pray that no family, no person, will ever have to live through war in the way that we have had to, but that every family and every person might experience beauty, joy, and the peace of being welcomed, loved and helped, something we ourselves have experienced firsthand.
(A family from the Parish of St. Francis, Aleppo)
We give thanks to God for the witness of faith, hope, and love demonstrated in the lives of Toni, Roula, and Edma. We raise our voices in prayer for the countless millions of brothers and sisters who have had to abandon home and homeland, and who seek a place of welcome where they might once again experience their dignity, living in conditions of peace, allowing them to participate in the construction of a future where there will be no more injustice, no more war, no more suffering, and where there will no more threat to our common home.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9, 5)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Rome, December 2016
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
General Minister and Servant