By Eva-Maria Kollman, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
“Dear God, please make the war end so that we can go home at last!” –This is the prayer said by the children who have fled from other parts of Syria to the Wadi al Nasara, the “Valley of Christians”, in the west of the country. Sister Marie-Rose Al Barkil from the order of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary loves them all. She expresses her affection in telling them: “You are God’s darlings.” The loving sister dances, prays, laughs and plays with them, and tells them stories too.
“Peace begins with the family,” is her conviction. “People are very tense because of the war; there are more and more conflicts within families. The children are also becoming increasingly aggressive. Many children exchange insults or fight one another. It goes beyond the normal childish scraps. Even among the girls the willingness to use violence is growing,” she notes with concern. “The children are aware of what is happening in our country. They express it in their games and their drawings.”
Sister Marie-Rose looks after 170 children in a programme called “Children as Peacemakers” which encompasses many different activities. “For example, once we made a fruit salad with a group of children. While we were doing it we were able to talk about how people are also as varied as the different kinds of fruit: apples, oranges etc. We talked about Christians and Muslims and about that fact that a knife isn’t supposed to be used for killing, but for cutting things like fruit,” Sister Marie-Rose explained. A little girl summed it up perfectly: “Dear God gave everybody good talents. We must all live together. We don’t live just to kill one another.”
The flower in the hearts of children
The children often work in the garden planting vegetables and flowers. “They observe how the plants develop and learn that they need a lot of time to grow. They understand: ‘that’s what it’s like with me when I grow through the love of God and my parents’.”
Sister Marie-Rose and her volunteer assistants also read stories from the Gospel to the children, for instance about the blind man who asked for Jesus’ help and was healed. “What do you want from Jesus?” they ask the little ones. “We want peace,” they answer. Through the stories they learn how important prayer is. This message bears fruit because if there are conflicts within the families it’s often the children who say to their parents: “You must pray to get peace.”
Some time ago the Bishop visited the children. They performed dances and scenes from the Bible. “We are the Children of Peace,” they said. Sister Marie-Rose was especially pleased by this. But she also works with the children’s parents. She tells them not to “kill the flower in the hearts of your children, the flower of faith, of humility, of purity, of love.” But often Sister Marie-Rose asks herself whether the flower was not already killed before the war: “Even before there was so much selfishness, so much superficiality, so much mutual rejection between people. Society was very consumption-oriented, and appearance often counted more than essence.” she said. “Perhaps the war will bring us back to our roots and to faith.”
There’s still a long way to go. But peace starts in small ways: in the hearts of individuals, in families, in living together day to day. In a country descending evermore into the dark abyss of hatred and violence, Sister Marie-Rose brings forth a glimmer of hope as she cultivates the “flower” in the hearts of the children so that they may become peacemakers.
“Bring war to an end so that we can go home at last,” Syrian children pray day after day. One day, when this prayer is heard, their hearts will be ready to work together on a peaceful future.
An excerpt from tomorrow’s article:
“I remember this seven year old child who was sleeping on the sidewalk and had lost track of his family. We gave him something to eat and my neighbour took him in to protect him.”