ROME (RNS) Despite intense bombing and severe food shortages, several Carmelite nuns are refusing to abandon the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo and have appealed for urgent aid.
“The bombs are falling all around us, but we are not going to leave the people in their suffering,” said Sister Anne-Francoise, a French nun from a community of Discalced Carmelites in Aleppo. “The people here are suffering and dying.”
The nun’s comments came in a statement released on Thursday (Aug. 4) by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. ACN has been trying to draw attention to the plight of the northern Syrian city, where suffering from the 5-year-old civil war has reached a critical point.
In recent weeks Aleppo has seen fierce clashes between Syrian government troops, backed by Russian air power, and opposing rebels as the two sides battle for control of the city.
According to reports, Syrian government troops completely encircled rebel-held neighborhoods last week, cutting off all supply lines.
The nuns’ convent is on the outskirts of Aleppo, in an area that has often been a focal point of the fighting.
“When the Syrian army attempts to prevent the opposition and other groups from entering the city, the bombing and shelling is really close to us,” said Sister Anne-Francoise.
“Thank God, they haven’t hit us yet, but we are constantly hearing the shells pass over our heads.”
The Carmelite nuns, four of whom are Syrian and two French, have taken in a number of refugee families and are also supporting other families with the few resources they have.
“By now it is only the poorest of the people who are still left here in Aleppo. So many Christians have left the city during these years of war,” Sister Anne-Francoise said.
“We have no water, no electricity, and the fighting is continuing incessantly.
“How can we abandon these people in their suffering? Our presence is important for them.”
After years of fighting, Aleppo’s Christian population has been decimated, according to ACN. The charity says there were more than 160,000 Christians in the city in 2011, but now only 40,000 remain.
“The diplomatic solutions have not worked,” the French nun said. “We simply pray to the Lord that this war may stop.”
Pope Francis has appealed for an end the war in Syria many times and recently complained that the countries talking about peace proposals for the war-torn nation were also the ones supplying it with weapons.
In July the pope said there was no military solution for the conflict and expressed support for the Christians who were suffering discrimination there.
The nuns in Aleppo appealed to the international community and to Christians throughout the world to support them.
“Please take pity on these thousands of lives, torn apart by war. Please don’t forget us. We need your prayers and your practical help!” Sister Anne-Francoise said.
At a briefing on Thursday afternoon at the Pentagon, President Obama said the U.S. was prepared to work with Russia to try to reduce the violence in Syria and to battle ISIS terrorism.
“But Russia has failed to take the necessary steps. Given the deteriorating situation, it is time for Russia to show it is serious about pursuing these objectives,” Obama said, warning he was not confident he could trust Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“We’re going to test and see if we can get something that sticks,” Obama said, according to AFP. “And if not, then Russia will have shown itself very clearly to be an irresponsible actor around the world stage that is supporting a murderous regime.”
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)