Keeping hope alive
People in Syria try to go beyond their answerless suffering and find strength in their communities
By Sarah Mundell
War for many can seem so distant, in faraway lands, in parts of cities and countryside and deserts that you see on TV. Soon, the hopelessness of it all fills our hearts. And because the burden is too heavy to bear, because we feel too powerless to do something from the other side of the world, we might turn away before it leads to despair.
But how are the people in Syria going through this situation? Their experience is surely much more devastating than ours! If we believe that we are one human family, they are our brothers and sisters, and their suffering cannot leave us indifferent. And even in the midst of the war, there are people in Syria who are determined to stay hopeful, who want to build bridges and believe that, despite divisions and war, peace and unity is possible. How do they do it?
Pascal Bedros, a focolarino from Lebanon, has lived in Syria for several years. Instead of staying in a safe place, he decided to return to Syria after a trip to Italy, because he wanted to stay with the people of the Focolare community there. “Our lives have been in danger very often ... But, living with others and sharing their sufferings, we then find the answers, the right reasons to remain in this country … And I can say that in Aleppo, despite everything, with the families, the young people and the children, we always try to find something to celebrate. Why is this? To remind ourselves that the sole fact of being together is a reason to live.” His advice to everybody who wants to contribute: “I would say, the main way to help is that we must work hard for peace, and give peace a voice, because it seems to have become normal that there is a war in Syria,” he says.
Agostino Spolti, who coordinates youth activities at the international Focolare headquarters near Rome, went on a trip to visit several cities in Syria this summer. He helped repair and paint houses and to make a public park more beautiful. Together with others he organized a day of sports for 300 teens. “I was always asked, ‘Why did you come here to Syria? How come, when many of us try to escape from this country, you instead came here?’ ‘Because you exist!’ was my answer that came spontaneously from the heart. To make them feel that they are not alone.”
A lot of families are facing the question, “Should we try to leave the country, or should we stay?” Both alternatives are hard, and each one has to find his or her personal answer. No one knows what the other is going through. Chafic shared, “I don’t want to leave Syria, but in the last two months I have started thinking about it. I hear my 4 -and-a-half-year-old son asking me if we will ever live in a country where there are no bullets and death; and my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter is so afraid of explosions and cries when she hears a noise.”
Vivian, a young mother, says: “Every day I go to work under the bombs. Seeing people die in front of me day after day made me think more and more about leaving, even though we don’t want to because we love our country, and we love our neighborhood.” She was impressed when she read how Focolare founder Chiara Lubich and her first followers had to run to the air-raid shelters during World War II, where they opened the Gospel and discovered that they had to bring love. “I learned to open the Gospel every day to see what I should do, what I can live. Living here, in this atmosphere of death, I feel called every day to live and to intensify this love. I ask you to pray more for peace in Syria.”
Then there are stories with unbelievable hardships, like those of Abboud and Soha, who despite their suffering are still able to find strength to go ahead when others carry this suffering with them. Abboud shares, “A year and a half ago there were four of us at home. We were a nice family, happy with our lives and we accepted everything. But suddenly only two of us were left because a rocket fell on our house, and we lost the most precious things we had, our two children, Antoun and Michael.
They left for heaven, and we did not even see them after they died.”
Abboud says that many people have lost children, not just them. However, that thought doesn’t help them cope with the pain. Among the other members of the Focolare, they found a community that stayed with them in this life’s trial. “It was more than family,” he says.
Soha adds, “Antoun and Michael were what was most dear to us. Suddenly I found myself with no children. It was very difficult; I asked myself, why did God take them? What had I done to deserve that?” With the help of others, she managed to carry on, and soon she learned that she was pregnant. “I thank God who sent us this child. No one can take the place of Antoun and Michael, but this new son has helped me come out of myself. I thank God who sent me people who are like a second family to me.”
Suhair, Soha’s sister, found an example from the Bible: “I remembered when Jesus carried the cross, it was very heavy, but it was Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry the cross. Our cross would have been heavier without the people who helped us and who prayed for us.”
Nadine, a student from Syria who now lives in Damascus, shares her secret: “I learned how to live entrusting each day to God, and at the same time accepting death. Chiara [Lubich] said that if they had died during the war they wanted written on their gravestone, ‘And we have believed in love.’ This urges me and all of us to keep going, and I feel that we can truly teach others how we try to live in the face of death, while fighting for life by continuing to live very beautiful moments together because of the atmosphere of love that we have among us.”
This love goes beyond friends, their community or people of their same religion.
Rahmé Breiki, also from Damascus, describes what they are doing to help families who lost their homes: “We decided to do a small project for them, because they have lost everything, so we offered them practical help and spent time with them ... Now some of them go to visit other new families just as we did before with them.
“I feel that we always have to be instruments of peace in a very simple way, but it’s not always easy. … It’s important to try to have peace within me because otherwise it is difficult to give this peace to others ...
“We in Syria are very different from one another, there are Christians and Muslims, this is a rich diversity, but sometimes this richness is understood differently. So it’s very important that in our relationships with others we learn how to accept and love them. I feel that this helps me to be an instrument for this peace.”