Damascus (AsiaNews) - Sister Rima, 40, from Aleppo, was a member of the Teaching Sisters of Dorothy-Daughters of the Sacred Hearts. Together with an Italian-born fellow sister, she was involved in the local youth mission, running a female boarding school near Aleppo University. She was killed on 15 January in a bomb blast that killed 87 people at the university. Islamic extremists claimed responsibility for the attack. Her body has not yet been found, but Mgr Mario Zenari, Vatican nuncio to Damascus, confirmed her death.
The two women were the only Dorothean nuns left in their convent, the prelate said. Four other nuns had been recalled to Italy for security reasons. Sister Rima shared the suffering of this war with her fellow sister. Despite the fear, cold and danger of death, the two visited families in the neighbourhood, both Christian and Muslim. They also offered hospitality and spiritual help to displaced people, especially young female university students.
"The morning of the attack, Sister Rima had meditated over the passage in which Jesus chased the demons," Mgr Zenari said. "She confessed to God that she was willing to offer her life if her sacrifice could alleviate the suffering of the Syrian population. After their prayer, the two nuns went out for their daily visit to families and the sick, with an arrangement to meet for lunch at home."
The last person to see Sister Rima alive was the gardener of the nearby Carmelite convent, which is also not far from the university. He spoke with the nun who was on her awy back from her morning round when a wall of fire hit them. When he regained consciousness, the wounded gardener saw nothing but rubbles around him.
A moved Mgr Zenari said Sister Rima's relatives and her fellow nun "visited all of the city's hospitals, hoping to find her body at least." Sadly, "most bodies taken from the rubbles are beyond recognition. A DNA test will be necessary."
Sister Rima is the first Catholic nun to die in the war, the nuncio noted. "Unfortunately, she is one of the many lives broken by the bloodbath that is devastating the life of Syrians of every religion, ethnicity or political affiliation."
"The situation is tragic," he added. "If you do not die under the rubbles caused by the shelling or in shootouts, life is difficult. In Aleppo, as in other cities of Syria, everything is in shortage: power, gas, food, drugs. People are cutting down trees in the public gardens to keep warm."
"On the day of the university attack, 120 other people died in shootouts, shelling, and summary executions in other Syrian provinces. The final tally for that day was 216 dead."
These numbers have become part of daily life and the media are no longer surprised by them. However, behind each murdered victim, there are stories of suffering and sorrow that should not be forgotten." (S.C.)