Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trappist nuns in Azeir, a sign of hope for Syria at war

Amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, when the main noise has been the sound of bombs going off and the screams of those they wounded, there are still some places where the prevailing hatred is held at bay. 

One of them is a Trappist monastery in the small Maronite village of Azeir, located in western Syria between the cities of Tartous and Homs.  

Five Italian nuns from the Monastery of Valserena (Pisa) call it home. Despite the fighting raging around them, they chose to stay in the country. 

"Despite our Italian nationality," said Sister Monica, superior of the Mother House, "and the resources we might have because of it, we are part of this community and cannot leave at a time of trial. Its fate is our fate."

In letters written over the past few months and posted on the monastery's website, the nuns describe the tragedies of the war and the suffering endured by the residents of the villages that surround them.

For the sisters, the monastery is a tangible sign of hope. "A place where God is worshiped in his real presence, both Eucharistic and Ecclesial, through prayers and brotherly communion, is a blessing for all."

However, "Our neighbours are discouraged," said one of the letters posted. "Even in our small village, civilians and young conscripts have been killed."

"The country," wrote another, "has become a battleground for adversaries that are bigger than Syria, people who came to fight in this land and this people to settle their own conflicts."

In each post, the Trappist nuns call on all Christians to pray for the Syrian population that welcomed them.

According to them, "people want justice, freedom, democracy but also jobs and a chance to go out with the family."

During the months of war, Muslims came to the monastery, not only to ask for basic items, but also for some comfort.

"Some young people began turning to us because they needed someone to help them think, grow and reflect," one nun said.

The nuns responded to such requests with their life, full of prayers and small actions, like growing vegetables in the garden and tending the orchard, which produces all sorts of fruit," another nun said.

Bearing witness in this simple fashion helps people have hope and stand up to hatred,  mindful of the traditions of this land where Christians and Muslims have lived in peace for centuries.

"Our trust in man comes from Christian hope and it is stronger than all the horrors," Sister Monica wrote. "Christians are called to bear witness to it in the world. Since we have been called to Syria, why leave?"

Syria's civil war broke out in March 2011 in the wake of the Arab spring. Some 30,000 people have died since its start with almost a million forced from their homes. Some 200,000 have found refugee in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

After months of fighting and appeals by the pope and the United Nations for a ceasefire, UN and Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced today a possible truce for the Muslim festivity of the Eid al-Adha, which will be celebrated over the week-end.

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