Sister Joseph-Marie Chanaa of the Sisters of Charity of Besançon works with her five associate Sisters to help war-battered families in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
“Why does God permit so much suffering in Syria? Why do innocent people have to die? Why does God not give us peace although we pray for it?” These are the kinds of questions young people in Damascus ask the Sisters day after day.
Sister Marie-Joseph Chanaa is devastated by the suffering she encounters every day: “The people are severely traumatized. Even the children are forced to see people who have been burnt by bombs. They see body parts lying around on the street. When they hear an explosion they run to their parents and hide. One girl brought to school by her mother didn’t want her mama to leave because she was afraid she might die. The mother had to stay throughout the lessons,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Everyone is afraid. They don’t know how long they have to live. When someone goes to work he doesn’t know if he’ll come home again. Fear permeates the whole of life.”
But this diminutive nun is not only sad, she is also angry: “What is happening here is inhuman. Young people are abducted. Dead bodies are chopped up, the arms and legs are cut off and then cut into pieces. Whoever’s heard of such a thing anywhere else?”
In the immediate vicinity of the convent a 15 year old boy was recently abducted. “They hung the boy up by his legs with his head hanging down for days. His parents were supposed to pay a ransom of 100,000 dollars. To raise the money they sold everything: their house, their business and their car. When the abductors released the boy he was in a coma. He lived for another three days. And so the family not only lost their son, they were also made desperately poor.”
And providing for one’s family is also a struggle. Food prices have almost doubled, gas even costs seven times more than before the war. Parents can’t afford milk for their children, and many can’t even dream of eating fruit or meat. Clothing is also a luxury. The Sisters try to help them. As often as they can, they distribute milk to 150 families. “You should just see how the children drink this milk,” Sister Joseph-Marie says, clearly moved. “Lord, send us food,” is her constant prayer. There’s no other way she could help the suffering.
Sister Joseph-Marie refuses to give up where others despair: “I always say: ‘Lord, I am in Your hands.’ I live to help these people and to encourage them. We Sisters tell them: ‘Never give up hope! We pray a lot with the people for Syria, we pray with them every day: with the children, with the families, with the sick. God is with us in this trial.”