“’FORGIVE THEM, LORD.’ HOW MANY TIMES HAVE WE REPEATED THESE WORDS, especially over the past years! says Sister Jihanne Attalah, from the Sisters of Charity of Sainte Jeanne Antide Thouret, in Damascus. She spoke days before the celebration of yet another somber Christmas in a Syria that has endured more than 10 years of war.

“From one day to the next we were forced to abandon our large, recently built and beautiful school, on the road to the Damascus airport,” Sister Jihane recalls. The location of the Al-Riaya school that the congregation ran on the outskirts of Damascus became a war zone. Besides the school itself, the nuns also lost loved ones in the fighting. “We lost a young teacher and a student, not to mention all those who were injured,” the nun tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Sister Attalah

One of the school’s students, 15-year-old Christine, was returning home from school with a classmate when a bomb detonated near them. Christine lost a foot, but her friend was killed. Sister Jihane remembers that when Christine was in hospital and a television channel interviewed her, she said in a calm voice: “May the Lord forgive them, that is all I can say.”

Then, one day, the students and teachers were prevented from returning to the school to fetch their belongings. The management was forced to find alternative classrooms in which to teach their students in safety.

Despite all these years of suffering, war and pain in this country, Sister Jihane says that keeping the faith has been most important, to have some inner peace. In this respect, she explains, Mary, mother of reconciliation, is an example to all Syrian Christians. “Amidst all this darkness there has always been room for hope that guided us and helped us lift our eyes, overcome our desire for vengeance and transform ourselves. It was our faith in God and in the presence of the Virgin Mary, who remained close to the Cross. She held firm, and drew strength from her Son,” says Sister Jihane.

After the war ended in the Damascus region, the nuns returned to rebuild and reopen their school. Aid to the Church in Need helped fund a desalination system for  the Al-Riaya school as well as the furniture for the school.