Oasis of charity in Damascus. First stop of our trip to Syria
We arrive in Damascus after sunset and the show is amazing: that of an illuminated city. Only six months ago it seemed impossible, but electricity does not seem to be a big problem anymore. As we approach the Franciscan Monastery, the impression we had at the beginning is confirmed: the city has finally returned to life and there is a concrete hope that war is almost at its end.
On the market in front of the big mosque, it’s hard to walk: tourists are not there, but traders are busy listening to those who have finally got some money to buy a scarf, some spices, or just a piece of soap.
“After the liberation of Aleppo, we started hoping” says Father Bahjat, guardian of the Franciscan monastery of Bab Touma in Damascus. It is not naive optimism. Sister Yola confirms it too us as she takes us to see the kindergarten, that is next to the memorial of Saint Paul (where, according to the tradition, Saul of Tarso met Jesus). The place has has never stopped welcoming children during these years of war.
In the nursery, completely renovated rooms welcome 140 children from 3 to 5 years old. But only a year ago it was a dilapidated building. “Thanks to the funds that the Association pro Terra Sancta sent to us, we did a wonderful job. And we can welcome anyone, even those who do not have the money to pay the fee”. This miracle of charity has been made possible thanks to the many supporters who in recent years have not abandoned the Syrian people. The gratitude of Sr. Yola and the teachers is for them, “for those who have not left us alone during these years”, she says.
In the classes, however, there is a grievous humanity. Like Maryam who is only five years old and has lost her mother a few months ago. She is shy, she just answers. She looks at us with those little blue eyes but never gets close to us, even though Sister Yola continues to call her. “Taali, taal!” Which means “Come, come!”. No way. Maryam keeps on hiding among her classmates. “She lost her mother on March 26th”, the sister tells us.
For her and her sister it was a terrible blow. “Since then, she only says a few words”. Every now and then, her hands tremble, and her gaze is lost in the void. “A few days after that tragedy, on Easter Sunday, her father committed suicide. Before he died he called all his children and told Stephen, his older son: ‘Daddy will be away for a while. I recommend: take care of your sisters’. That was the last time they saw him.
Stephen, when he realized that his father would not return, did not want to see his sisters anymore for revenge towards his father. He did not want to obey his dad, who had betrayed him. “At night, we hear him weep and scream” his uncles tells us, “he accuses his father of being a liar, to have disappointed him. Sometimes, he also threatens to commit suicide”. The scars that the war has left and still leaves, will last for many years. “The only hope is that they can really feel loved after being abandoned by everyone”, says sister Yola.
It is true for Stephen, for Maryam, but also for all the other little ones who enter these classroms in the morning,ordered in a line. The war could not destroy this beauty. Sister Yola wishes that this beauty will keep on growing in her great family. And hope as well.
It is this hope that we want to support with your help. Because, as it was for Saint Paul, so many hearts can still be converted in Syria although the Country has been torn apart by the conflict. Today this hope is coming back to life.