Carmelite nuns remain amid Aleppo’s bombs
• “Please help us! The bombs are falling all around us, but we are not going to leave the people in their suffering”
By Marta Petrosillo and John Newton
A Carmelite nun in Aleppo, Syria has described how, despite their convent being at the centre of an ongoing bombardment, they are determined to stay and help those affected by the war. “Please help us – the bombs are falling all around us, but we are not going to leave the people in their suffering,” said Sister Anne-Françoise of Aleppo’s Discalced Carmelite Sisters.
She was speaking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Friday 5th August about the crisis in the city, which has become the site of fierce clashes between Syrian government troops and opposing rebel forces. The Carmelite convent is situated in the university quarter on the outskirts of Aleppo, which is still seriously affected by the fighting.
Sister Anne-Françoise said: “When the Syrian army attempts to prevent the opposition and other groups from entering into the city, the bombing and shelling is 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.”
In a message issued at the end of last month, Melkite Greek-Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo described the situation for those remaining in the city. He wrote: “The increase of unprecedented and indiscriminate bombing has terrorised those in the residential areas of the city, and has caused considerable losses to the businesses of our faithful – all of this has sewn fear and disarray in their hearts, and has terrified the women and children.”
(Mass devastation in Aleppo caused by ongoing missile blasts © Aid to the Church in Need)
The Carmelite nuns have taken in a number of refugee families, who are housed in a building adjoining their convent, and they are also supporting other families with the few resources at their disposal. Sr Anne-Françoise said: “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?”
Sr Anne-Françoise feared that more families would abandon Aleppo. Believed to have the largest number of Christians in Syria before the war, it is estimated that no more than 40,000 now remain. The Carmelite Sister added: “The Middle East, the land of Christ, now risks becoming empty of Christians. That is unthinkable, and yet 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 as well.”
Her words echoed Archbishop Jeanbart’s plea: “We ask those of our faithful who rush to emigrate to calm a little and not to rush to take such a bold step – the results may be regrettable and leave no opportunity to turn back. The choice is evidently clear: we persevere and stay, or we take flight, scattered in the four corners of the world and hidden in countries that are not our own…”
But the Carmelite nuns – four Syrian Sisters and two French Sisters – are staying to help the people who remain. Sr 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.”
The Sister concluded with a plea to all Christians and to the international community: “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.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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