Many times people have asked us: Why are you in that mission? Why do you go there? Even the locals ask us, ‘What inspires you to come here? Many of us would like to leave from here. Your congregation has missions in many parts of the world; you could be in any of them, why are you here during this time of war?’
Among the many things that describe what it means to be a foreign missionary in Syria today, we would like to present just a few:
To be in mission means for us:
-A free choice: Nobody forces us to stay; on the contrary, our religious superiors have asked us many times to confirm our desire to stay in these places, because if it were not so, if we had some reason to think that we should leave this mission, they would be willing to give us a new missionary assignment. Therefore we are privileged to be in the place that we want, where we have asked to go.
-A gift of God: By means of our consecration to God, we have the grace to serve those whom God has chosen to share the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in a very special and palpable way. We could say that they are the “honored members of the Church”; they have been chosen to suffer for their faith, and we have the privilege of being near them, to accompany them.
-The opportunity to live our consecration to God in a fuller way: while this is an ideal that can be realized in any mission under any circumstance, it is also true that here we are compelled more by the circumstances. The very fact of having to think that any day could be the last of our lives (a thought that we should have each day and in every place) is a help for a fuller dedication to God.
-It also means to experience powerlessness: in the face of the profound grief of our neighbor, in the face of injustice and violence that sometimes seem all-powerful, only having the capacity to listen, without being able to remedy the sufferings, losses, sorrows.
-It means sharing with them their everyday experiences:
Tensions: when faced with the situation of each day: fighting, shootings, news of violence
Uncertainty: due to instability and insecurity
Risks: since the people are continually exposed to various dangers
Separations and farewells: those who have the possibility of leaving the country, try to do so. The community of the faithful has been decreasing in numbers over the last two years.
The joy of simple things: to learn to rejoice with them in the simplest things, because we have experienced what it means to lack them. For example one is surprised at oneself because one celebrates that we have had power for three hours today or because there was water supply twice during the week.
-To experience in a profound manner the words of the Gospel:
“I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Finally, it also means –personally– an obligation: as consecrated religious, we long to be with the souls who suffer, even materially, in order to give a word of comfort, or even if only to be a companion who understands their pain – simply, to be by their side. We understand that this is the mission of the Church in these lands: being next to her children who suffer, providing comfort, companionship, relief, maternal affection and closeness; to show in some manner the maternal face of God who does not forget any of his children, to the point of saying, “Can a mother forget her infant, stop loving the child of her womb? For though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Is 49:15). We understood that by coming to this mission, we should witness to the maternal face of the Church as an expression of God’s love for all men.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary help us to follow her example: to be at the side of her children sharing their pain, supporting them in their cross, encouraging in them the hope that only those who walk in darkness will someday see the stars.
Missionaries in Aleppo