September 01, 2013 03:02 EST
In March 2005 a small group of nuns from the Cistercian Monastery of Valserena in Tuscany moved to Aleppo, Syria, to found a new monastic community there. The nuns were inspired to take up the legacy of seven monks who were martyred in 1997 in Tibhirine, Algeria. The sisters wanted to follow the example set by these men, who had totally dedicated their lives to God and to their beloved Algerian neighbors, both Christian and Muslim.
The sisters’guiding Scripture is John 10:16: “There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must led these too. They too will listen to my voice.”
Once they had settled in Aleppo, with the blessing of both the Latin Apostolic Vicar and the Maronite bishop of Tartous, the sisters gained a new awareness of the importance of helping Christian Arabs remain in the Middle East, as well as a respect for the diversity of their traditions. Their project was, and continues to be, establishing a permanent monastery on the land they bought near the Syrian border with Lebanon, in a Maronite village named Azeir, atop a hill, far from the big cities. The monastery is at the service of isolated Christian communities, in a land which is predominantly Muslim but which is home to the most ancient of Christian traditions.
To the sisters, Syria represents the meeting place of East and West, the place where Christianity began and then spread to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, and then Armenia and India—all the way to China, with saints such as such as Afraate, Ephraim, Cyrus, Simeon Protostilite, Maron, Isaac of Niniveh, and others who followed in their footsteps, such as John Chrysostom and John Damascene.
It is this tradition the sisters wish to honor and perpetuate, persevering in their mission despite the fear and the hardship: to keep the monastery going and provide those who desire it with a chance to spend a few days there, with a church to go to.
These nuns have been providing a much-needed independent perspective on the tumultuous events going on inside Syria, in eye-witness reports published on their website and in the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire.
Here is a translation of a letter written on the 29th of August, in which the sisters seem to be holding their breath as President Obama deliberated about what, if any, action would be taken in Syria by the United States.
Read the letter here: Catholic World Report
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