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Syria/ Trappist Nuns: This is the reason we decided to stay, in spite of everything

April Tue 30, 2013

Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, one of the two kidnapped bishops  (archive image)  Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, one of the two kidnapped bishops (archive image)

Eight years ago, four Trappist nuns chose to found a Benedictine monastery in Syria, in the countryside that extends to the border with Lebanon. Although the area where they live and work is relatively quieter than the rest of the country and is well guarded by the military who defend the population from the insurgents, the atmosphere is still very tense. This is especially true since last February, when the Islamic extremists of Al Jabat Nusra not only kidnapped two priests, one an Armenian Catholic and the other a Greek Orthodox, on the road that leads from Aleppo to Damascus, but even two bishops from the "Capital of the North", the Syrian Orthodox Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Boutros Yazigi. Rumors that the two patriarchs were released were soon proved false and the Christian community of Syria is experiencing a time of great sorrow, as one of the Italian sisters told us who has lived there since 2005.

There are many areas which are less dangerous than Syria to found a monastery. Why did you choose this place?

Our order has a very special relationship with the land, because manual labor, especially in agriculture, is central to our life. Here we live separate from the village in a small monastery nestled in the countryside.

But Syria is not the only place in the world where there is farmland

We wanted to undertake this "adventure" to follow the example of our brothers of the monastery of Tibhirine, Algeria, who, in order to remain close to the population--mostly Muslim--with whom they had established a deep bond, they decided not to leave the monastery in spite of threats from the Muslim terrorists who later killed them.

Are you also linked to the local population?

Yes, it is part of our order to try to establish, with the people who live in the area where our monastery is rooted, a fruitful relationship, of help and dialogue.

So you deliberately chose to live in a place where Christians are in the minority?

Exactly. Here the population is mostly Shiite Muslim, but there are also Sunnis and Alawites; geographically we are at a crossroads. How do you try to establish a dialogue? In the manner of our order, by founding a monastery, living the Trappist life and building relationships of friendship with the people we come in contact with and among whom we live. And how does the local population see this "mission"?

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