04/01/2022, 15.40
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Trappist nuns in Azeir share the pain of Ukraine, the ‘new Syria’ in the heart of Europe

Nuns released a letter on the 11th anniversary of the country’s civil war. In Jihadi-held Idlib, “Christians are subjected to harsh conditions and deprivation.” Even in the Kurdish north-east, minorities live a tragic reality. Now “entire families who left the war in Syria and went as refugees to Ukraine [. . .] find themselves in a new exodus”. A recent conference in Damascus brings some hope.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The Trappist nuns of Azeir, Syria, published a long letter on the OraproSiria blog to mark 11 years of Syria’s conflict that "passed somewhat in silence, due to the new tragedies and concerns that afflict the world”.

Penned by Sister Marta Luisa, the letter painfully refers to “the prospect of a ‘new Syria’ in the heart of Europe” while still today "we [. . .] see our young people leaving for promised lands that no longer exist.”

The reference is to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a new conflict in the heart of Europe. "We know young people, entire families who left the war in Syria and went as refugees to Ukraine. Now they find themselves in a new exodus, still fleeing war”.

From their monastery in the small Maronite village of Azeir in western Syria, located between the cities of Tartous and Homs, the Trappist nuns can look at a still divided country from a privileged position. 

The war "unfortunately is not over yet,” writes Sister Marta Luisa, although most of the territory is "now consolidated under the control of the state".

An extremist pocket remains in the Idlib area on the border with Turkey, “almost a small state in itself, which uses the Turkish language and currency, an area where the remaining Christians are subjected to harsh conditions and deprivation.”

Problems have also been reported in the Kurdish-majority north-east, where the situation of Christian minorities is tragic because they are "trapped between opposing forces in conditions of insecurity”.

“In this part of Syria, you can only get there by plane (small internal flights) because the roads are still threatened by jihadists.”

The crisis in Lebanon has “made the already precarious situation more difficult in terms of jobs and supplies, seriously weakening the business class of the country.”

The Trappist nuns picture a very harsh reality. “Eighty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with difficulty in getting even just their daily food. Fourteen and a half million people need subsidies, and some estimates say they are many more.”

Generally speaking, “Life is very expensive” as the price of “everything has increased: a carton of eggs today costs 13,000 Syrian pounds, a gas cylinder 110,000, when a basic salary is 100,000 (US$ 40),” reads the letter.

Crime and sanctions have compounded the problems caused by war and economic crisis.

“Mafias are rampant,” Sr Marta Luis writes, “gangs of jackals that every conflict, every war produces [. . .] thrive, even with the help of international sanctions”.

Sadly, “despite the continuous appeals made by geopolitical experts, statesmen, countless Syrian bishops and lay people who fight every day against the effects of poverty, they [sanctions] not only continue, but are regularly renewed by European states and indeed ‘improved’, aggravated, with banal contempt, not only for human solidarity but also simple common sense.”

For the Trappist nuns, sanctions, including the infamous Caesar Act, “never hit the powerful, only poor people”.

Another issue is the supply of weapons that end up in the hands of gangs, a danger to stability and security because "regular armies can be controlled, weapons in the hands of civilians cannot". 

In this difficult reality, a sign of hope has come from the recent conference of the Syrian Church in Damascus, which brought together for the first time cardinals, bishops, priests, laity, local and international Christian and Muslim associations, such as the Red Crescent.

The aim, explains Sister Marta Luisa, is “forming together a conscience, a vision of what we are experiencing, of what is at the heart of the painful experience of our people, but also of their hopes, of the real possibilities of building, after so much destruction.”

The nuns have undertaken certain initiatives to cope with certain difficulties and meet a number of challenges.

“We, in our small way, try to encourage formative meetings, with more and more guests who come to the Monastery. We try to financially support children and young people in their studies, and give work to some women left alone or with family difficulties.

This includes “support [for] some micro projects, like helping young people buy some cattle or giving them a chance to start a job with some income. After ten years of military service,” so many “find themselves with nothing in their hands.”

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