From Catholic News Agency comes this story of a religious sister from Argentina who has asked her superiors to send her to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo to aid Christians there. Sister Maria Nazareth says she was inspired to make this decision by Pope Francis’ call to “go toward the outskirts of existence” and help “those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten.”
Sr. Maria, an Argentine native, has chosen to go to Aleppo to help her two fellow sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, who assist Bishop George Abou Khazen, the city’s apostolic vicar; she will also work in a student hostel for Christian girls.
“I asked my superiors whether I can go to Syria; they didn’t ask me. That’s the usual way with us … you are not sent by your superiors, but you yourself must ask for permission to undertake a difficult mission.”
Aleppo has been subjected to “barrel bombs” by the Syrian regime in recent months. The simple bombs are tossed from the side of helicopters, falling indiscriminately on civilians and rebel fighters alike.
According to the Violations Documentation Center, an opposition monitoring group, nearly 700 civilians have been killed by barrel bombs and warplanes in Aleppo province since Feb. 22.
The city is currently divided among districts controlled by the Syrian regime, the Free Syrian Army, and by Kurds, and fighting has escalated in the city in recent weeks.
“I trust in God and the Virgin Mary,” Sr. Maria said. “As members of a religious order we enjoy her special protection. In addition I am being accompanied by the prayers of so many people in my order. Our priests and sisters pray in particular for the Middle East. We sense this.”
In 2013, several aid workers and Christians were kidnapped in the vicinity of Aleppo. That October, seven volunteers with the Red Cross and Red Crescent were abducted. In April, two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped, and their driver killed.
A priest from Aleppo told CNA in June 2013 that he was returning to the city “because it is his duty,” and was going to take a helicopter because travel by car is too dangerous for Christians.
“I know that there are dangers,” said Sr. Maria. “Something can happen. Even the journey to Aleppo is not without hazard. You need 12 hours for the not-so-long road from Damascus to Aleppo on account of the large number of checkpoints.”
The road from Damascus to Aleppo is a mere 230 miles.
“Something can befall you anywhere,” Sr. Maria reflected.
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