A Cry for Help from Carmelite Nuns in Aleppo, Syria

By Marta Petrosillo 

syrian-christiansNEW YORK—“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 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!”

Directly under the Holy Father, 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. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. 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, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org