By Sarah Mac Donald - 08 August, 2016
Carmelite Sisters remain on in Aleppo to help families facing daily bombardment even though their convent is at the centre of ongoing conflict.
Courtesy: Independent Catholic News http://www.indcatholicnews.com
Pope Francis renewed his condemnation of violence again called for peace in Syria on Sunday during his address to pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square after the Angelus.
He expressed particular concern for the city of Aleppo.
He told pilgrims on Sunday, “Dear brothers and sisters – sadly, news continues to reach us from Syria, of civilian victims of the war there, in particular from the city of Aleppo.”
“It is unacceptable that so many defenceless persons – among them many small children – must pay the price for conflict – for the closure of the hearts and the want of a will for peace among the powerful.”
He urged the faithful to “draw near to our Syrian brothers and sisters with prayer and solidarity” and to “entrust them to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary”.
Rebels have been trying to break through a thin strip of government-controlled territory to reconnect insurgent areas in western Syria with their encircled sector of eastern Aleppo, in effect breaking a government siege begun last month.
Since Friday, fighting has been extremely intense, when the rebels began a major push.
There have been reports throughout the weekend of civilian casualties and non-combatant facilities being hit by artillery and possibly even targeted.
Those reports include one of an air strike near a hospital in northwestern Syria on Saturday that killed 10 people including children, and caused damage to the hospital facility.
At least one medical charity has reported the month of July as the worst to date for attacks on medical care centres in Syria, with 43 attacks on healthcare facilities recorded in their count.
Separately, a Carmelite nun in Aleppo, 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 Sr Anne-Françoise of Aleppo’s Discalced Carmelite Sisters.
She was speaking to Aid to the Church in Need on Friday 5 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.
“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,” Sr Anne-Françoise said.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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 said.
She 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.”
He added, “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.
Sister Anne-Françoise explained, “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.”