Monday, 19 October 2015

“The war in Syria has made our faith stronger”

This is a full transcript of the interview with Sr. Annie Demarjian, a Syrian nun who was recently in Portugal at the invitation of the local branch of Aid to the Church in Need. The news report, in Portuguese, can be found here.

Transcrição integral da entrevista à irmã Annie Demarjian, uma freira síria que esteve recentemente em Portugal a convite da Ajuda à Igreja que Sofre. A reportagem está aqui.

Could you explain to us where you live and work you do?
I am Sister Annie Demerjian, from Syria, with the Sisters of Jesus and Mary.

We have been working in Aleppo since 2004.

Who do mostly work with?
We are working with a school, with the school of the Greek-Catholic Diocese, my sisters and myself, and when the war started we also started doing emergency work with families.

Are you from Aleppo?
No, I am from Damascus, but my mission was in Aleppo.

Do you still have family in Damascus?

You have been in Aleppo since 2004. How much has life changed since the beginning of the war?
Since the war began, the situation of displacement within the country, mass flight to neighbouring countries, to Europe, as well as death and injury, loss of infrastructure in the country, as you know. Lots of change happened. Many houses were destroyed and damaged, factories, as you all know, were looted, many places of employment were destroyed and it is difficult to repair them. Schools and hospitals either destroyed or, sometimes if not, the systems have been terribly degraded.

Those who want to stay, or can't leave, are in a real state of poverty. Life is not easy now, and it is very difficult to maintain daily life in Aleppo, especially. Electricity and water are cut off for long hours. The daily life is not easy for families.

What does your congregation do to help?
From the beginning of the crisis, our sisters were holding us in prayer all over the world. And they try to help as much as they can so we can stand with our families. My congregation, as well as Aid to the Church in Need, which is helping us a lot. At least we make the suffering of our families less.

We know that this war has affected the country materially, and there has been terrible loss of life, refugees, etc. How has it affected people's faith, and more specifically the faith of the Christians?
There is a real spiritual growth and the families need the support and welcome of the liturgy and prayer that the churches offer. They are full when prayer or mass is announced. I think also that the crisis has made our faith stronger, and you can see that from the worship of the peopel, the way they pray, the way they trust the Lord, the way they have hope that one day there will be a ressurection.

You say there is hope that one day things will improve. But looking back, only in the past 100 years, you had the massacres of 1915, Simile in 1933, now the persecutions at the hands of ISIS... Do you believe Christians will ever live in peace in this part of the world?
If you go back in the history of the Church, from the beginning we have always had difficult times and peaceful times. So what we are looking for is to live in peace and dialogue.

It is not easy... Always our dear Christians have been facing dangers and difficulties for the sake of Christ. If we really believe in Christ, then what does our life matter?

Pope Francis used an expression which is Ecumenism of Blood. There are so many different churches on the ground in the Middle East, not only Catholic but Orthodox, do you feel that the Christians have drawn closer together faced with these persecutions?
Yes, very much so, especially with the emergency help, they try to help eachother, when one Church has a good, they share it with other churches. Not only on the material level, also on the spirtiual level, every time we have common prayer for peace, for kidnapped people, so yes, this crisis has brought us closer and closer together.

One of the concerns is that this crisis will drive Christians away from the Middle East. What do you say when young people go to you and say they are trying to leave?
I just listen to them. It is not easy to say for them to stay or to go, because people have a capacity of holding this violence and some people who are leaving have their reasons. So we need to pray together and see what is the good for them and let them make their choices.

We hear so many appeals for help from the Christians in the Middle East, but what exactly can we do to help?
When you have difficulties it is very important to find somebody standing beside you. What we want more, the real intention is that people work for peace. For us as a congregation and as a group working with families, we felt that. We felt that we are not alone. Many people around the world are praying for us, supporting us with material things and even with their prayer. And this is the beauty of the Church. We are one body and when a small part of the body is suffering, the whole church is suffering. So we felt that our brothers are really suffering with us and they are always sending us messages. Sister, we are praying for you, for your communities, we are with you, today we are having mass and praying for you.

The concern for what is happening is beautiful. Maybe on the wider level, the good intention to work for peace and make people aware that we really want peace.

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