Faithful witnesses to strife

Trappist women
I have spent a few weeks over the years on retreat with Trappist monks. Their communities are peaceful, restful and prayerful. The monks I’ve encountered would be described similarly. These are Trappists who live in monasteries seemingly removed from the controversies and complexities of the world. Of course it is not as sublime as it might seem and the monks are not escaping the realities of life.

But what of Trappist Sisters surrounded by civil war? Certainly their’s is a far different reality. A community of Trappist women in Azeir, Syria, near the war-plagued city of Aleppo, wrote a letter to the world recently expressing their fear, frustration and hope as violence intensified around them and the United States considered retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. Here are excerpts:

We look at the people around us, our day workers who are all here as if suspended, stunned: “They’ve decided to attack us.” Today we went to Tartous — we felt the anger, the helplessness, the inability to formulate a sense to all this: the people trying their best to work and to live normally.

You see the farmers watering their land, parents buying notebooks for the schools that are about to begin, unknowing children asking for a toy or an ice cream. You see the poor, so many of them, trying to scrape together a few coins. The streets are full of the refugees of Syria, who have come from all over to the only area left that is still relatively livable.

You see the beauty of these hills, the smile on people’s faces, the good-natured gaze of a boy who is about to join the army and gives us the two or three peanuts he has in his pocket as a token of togetherness.

And then you remember that they have decided to bomb us. Just like that. Because “it’s time to do something,” as it is worded in the statements of the important men, who will be sipping their tea tomorrow as they watch TV to see how effective their humanitarian intervention will be.

Will they make us breathe the toxic gases of the depots they hit, tomorrow, so as to punish us for the gases we have already breathed in? … Will (President Obama) drop his sentence of war onto us? Despite all justice, all common sense, all mercy, all humility, all wisdom?

The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else.

The problem is that it has become too easy to pass lies off as noble gestures, to pass ruthless self-interest off as a search for justice, to pass the need to appear strong and to wield power off as a “moral responsibility not to look away.”

And despite all our globalizations and sources of information, it seems nothing can be verified. It seems that there is no such thing as a minimal scrap of truth. That is, they don’t want there to be any truth; while actually a truth does exist, and anyone honest would be able to find it, if they truly sought it out together, if they weren’t prevented by those who are in the service of other interests.

There is something wrong, and it is something very serious, because the consequences will be wrought on the lives of an entire population, it is in the blood that fills our streets, our eyes, our hearts.

Yet what use are words anymore? All has been destroyed: a nation destroyed, generations of young people exterminated, children growing up wielding weapons, women winding up alone and targeted by various types of violence, families, traditions, homes, religious buildings, monuments that tell and preserve history and therefore the roots of a people, all destroyed.

As Christians we can at least offer all this up to the mercy of God, unite it to the blood of Christ, which carries out the redemption of the world in all those who suffer.

They are trying to kill hope, but we must hold on to it with all our might.

To those who truly have a heart for Syria (for humankind, for truth.) we ask for prayer — abounding, heartfelt, courageous prayer.
— The Trappist Sisters, Azeir, Syria, 29 August 2013

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