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The Most Powerful Weapon for Peace in Syria, The Trappist Nuns of Allepo

By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The infliction of these wounds and the multiplication of murderous acts is not limited to the current regime in Syria. Some who claim to be combating the regime seem just as hell bent on killing, maiming and inflicting evil upon the people of Syria, and, in particular, upon the Christians of that ancient land. Our Christian faith precedes in time and history the presence of Islam in Syria.

ALEPPO, SYRIA (Catholic Online) - The news out of Syria continues to shock the conscience of anyone who still has one. However, the solutions, at least from a geopolitical perspective, evade a clear answer. The brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, is committing atrocities against the Syrian people.  The allegations I they have used chemical weapons against their own people.

However, the opposition is composed of some groups which may be even worse than the regime. For example, the militant Islamists. In the crosshairs of this escalating violence are the Christians. Just this week, Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church were kidnapped. They were traveling from the Turkish border to Aleppo, Syria.

Among the strongest voices in the growing international outcry calling for the release of the Bishops is Pope Francis, a champion of peace who is also well aware of the dangers of militant, extremist versions of Islam. He referred to the kidnapping as "a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and its Christian community is living."

Like most of my readers, the continual images coming out of the Syrian tragedy trouble me greatly. The horrors inflicted upon men, women and children by a regime which seems to have no conscience continually fill our television, computer and smart phone screens with an almost surreal regularity.

However, the infliction of these wounds and the multiplication of murderous acts is not limited to the current regime in Syria. Some who claim to be combating the regime seem just as hell bent on killing, maiming and inflicting evil upon the people of Syria, and, in particular, upon the Christians of that ancient land. Our Christian faith precedes in time and history the presence of Islam in Syria.

Evil like this knows no bounds. It must be exposed by the only force able to vanquish it, the love of the God whose heart breaks for the victims; the God who is fully revealed in the Sacred Heart of His beloved Son which was pierced by the soldiers spear on Golgotha's Hill.  

In the face of all that is happening in the Middle East, I try to pay special attention to the plight of the Christians in that ancient land which has such a rich place in our Christian history.  I also try, as Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, to call regular attention to the plight of our Christian brethren who suffer such intense persecution precisely because they remain faithful to the ancient faith.

I am happy to report some good news in the midst of the seemingly unending stream of bad news out of Syria. Il sussidiaro.net recently featured a marvelous interview with a Trappist nun who is a part of a community which moved to Syria to focus the greatest weapon we have against the growing encroachment of evil in that land so rooted in Church history. That weapon is prayer.

You can read the interview here.  Last year, Asia News featured these wonderful nuns. Here is an excerpt: "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?"

These holy, happy nuns of Syria make me proud to be a Catholic Christian. Their life is beautiful.  Their prayer is powerful. More powerful than any weapons of mass destruction. They also reveal the beauty of the prophetic and timeless mission of the Catholic Church. In 2005 they left their beautiful Monastery of Valserena in Italy to found a monastery in Syria. They left a place of peace for a place plagued by the intrinsic evil of war. Why would they do this? 

First, because they really know Jesus Christ; I mean REALLY know Jesus Christ, in the way we all better get to know him quicklu as this new missionary age unfolds. They also did so because they were inspired by the heroic witness of seven Cistercian monks of Tibhirine who were martyred in 1996 in Algeria. The witness of these heroic monks is chronicled in an extraordinary film entitled "Of Gods and Men" You can read more about the life and sacrificial service of these holy women here

I call these nuns to my readers attention in order to encourage you to pray for them and with them. I also want to make an important point. The prayer of these holy nuns is more powerful than any weapon of evil. They stand at the center of the Lord's profound plan for this beautiful land which is the home of some of our most inspiring descendants as Christians. After all, that is who we are, first, last and all in between, Christians!

They explained their decision to leave Italy and travel to Syria in these words: "There is another important reason for choosing this land to build a new monastic foundation, even if, indeed, we were led to Syria by the providence. Here, in fact, the development of Christianity started. It shortly spread throughout Minor Asia, Greece, Rome and then Armenia, India up to China."

"Since (the) first centuries, the missionary action was borne and carried out by a very much lively monastic movement, arisen in the same time and independently as regards to the Egyptian one, more well-known. Saints like Aphrahat, Ephrem the Syrian, Simeon Stylites, Maron, Isaac of Nineveh and many others following their marks like John Chrysostom and John of Damascus, started a very rich spiritual tradition. We want to follow in the wake of them, starting from our Latin and Benedictine tradition, convinced about the fruitfulness coming from a deep exchange between the Eastern and Western heritage."

Their prophetic life should inspire all of us, no matter what our state in life or specific vocation within the one call to Christian discipleship, to respond in a similar way. Last year I wrote an article entitled "Blessings, Peace and Harmony: Monks are Prophetic Seeds of Renewal in a World Waiting to be Reborn" to call attention to the wonderful apostolate of monks who released a recording which is climbing the charts in the USA. Those monks, though perceived by some to be irrelevant, hold the world up by their prayer and prophetic life. 

I write of these dear Cistercian nuns, who through their prayers and holy witness keep the lawlessness and evil of the devil at bay in the beautiful land of Syria, in order to challenge my readers to wake up and get ready. The Catholic Church is Christ's Church, spread throughout the whole world, to carry on His continuing redemptive mission. We are just beginning to face a spreading persecution.

These nuns in Syria reveal the Catholic Church in all of her beauty and prophetic grandeur. Thay are the realists. They know that the battle raging is a spiritual one and prayer is the most potent force. Do we? Pray for these nuns and allow their example and prayers to inspire your own participation in the work of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are in a great spiritual battle and, in the words of St Paul,  "The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds". (2 Cor. 10:4)

We are living in a new missionary age. Whether in the West, where the memory of Christian influence fades under increasing persecution inflicted by rabid secularism and godless modernism, or in the East, which bleeds under the overt persecution from Jihadists and despots, the challenge is the same. We are called to prophetically bear witness to the Truth as fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

God alone can bring peace to Syria and to a world which has forgotten Him. He works through people like the nuns of Syria who understand reality. Do we?

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