“The situation is a complicated and we are hearing many contradictory stories. The only truth we do know is that the people here are suffering and dying.”
The words are those of Sister Anne-Françoise, a French religious of the Enclosed and Apostolic Discalced Carmelite Sisters of Aleppo, Syria. She spoke by telephone with international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need about the agony of Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, where fighting between the Syrian government and rebel forces has greatly intensified in recent weeks.
The convent of these nuns is on the outskirts of Aleppo, an area seriously affected by the fighting. The nun reported: “When the Syrian army attempts to prevent the opposition and other groups from entering into the city, the bombing and shelling come really close to us. Thanks be to God, they haven’t hit us yet, but we are constantly hearing the shells pass over our heads.”
The Carmelite nuns, four of whom are Syrian and two French, have taken in a number of refugee families in a building adjoining their convent, while also supporting other families with the few resources at their disposal. “By now it is only the poorest of the people who are still left here in Aleppo. So many Christians have left the city during these years of war. We have no water, no electricity, and the fighting is continuing incessantly. Who could possibly come back in these conditions,” the sister asked.
Needless to say, the six nuns are afraid as well, but they are determined to stay close to the people. Sister Anne-Françoise said: “How can we abandon these people in their suffering? The witness of our presence is important for them. We draw strength and courage from prayer; this is our protection. The diplomatic solutions have not worked. We simply pray to the Lord that this war may stop.”
After years of fighting, and of an unceasing Christian exodus, Sister Anne-Françoise is fearful that more and more families will abandon Aleppo, a city that has been a symbol of Christianity in Syria. Since 2011—when the Syrian civil war began—a population of 160,000 Christians in the city had dwindled to barely 40,000.
“The Middle East, the land of Christ, now risks losing its Christians. That is unthinkable, and the situation is truly terrible. And even for those who leave, the crisis does not end. They find themselves uprooted from their own soil and sometimes even lose their spiritual roots,” the sister said.
The sisters’ appeal to the international community and to all Christians throughout the world is this: “Please take pity on these thousands of lives, torn apart by war. Please don’t forget us. We need your prayers and your practical help!”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)