Report of Yancarlos Carrasco (International President of the VMY) on the occasion of his visit to Syria.
…on that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I replied: “Who are you, sir?” And he said to me: “I am Jesus….” (Acts 22:6-8)
The biblical text which I have just referenced is part of the narrative of Paul’s conversion. Paul, then known as Saul, had dedicated his energy to persecuting the Christians and, then, one day he was blinded by a light that knocked him to the ground. He heard the Lord’s voice. That experience marked the beginning of Saul’s new life who would become known as Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. The conversion of Paul is crucial to our understanding of Christianity. The persecutor became the proclaimer of Jesus’ message and that shows us that God works in ways that we so often fail to understand. This scriptural account invites us to open our eyes and ears, to turn the medal over (CCD:XI:26), to see that which is positive, to see as God sees.
This important event in the history of Christianity took place in Damascus, the capital of Syria, a country which is prominent in today’s news because of the present political situation which the people must confront on a daily basis. The news communicates to us many of the negative realities that are occurring there. It is for that reason that I want to communicate to you the fact that despite the very difficult situation in which the people of this country find themselves, I found many positive realities during my visit to this country (a visit that occurring in the beginning of June)…many positive things with regard to the members of the Vincentian Marian Youth and the Vincentian Family.
I traveled from the Lebanon border to the city of Damascus, the birth place of Christianity, one of the most ancient cities in the world. As I entered the city I was impressed by the presence and the devotion that is given to our Mother, Mary. There is such devotion to Mary that on almost every block of the city one will find her image. Within the walls of Damascus is located the house of the Daughters of Charity which serves as the meeting place for the Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria and is known by the young men and women as an oasis…a peaceful and welcoming environment that one immediately experiences as one walks through the door of the house. This house is located a few meters from Ananias’ house which is referenced in the account of Saul’s conversion (Acts 22:10-11).
When I arrived there I was greeted by Aida Baladi (President of the VMY in Syria) who was accompanied by Sister Monique Kharouf, DC and Father Khalil Arar, CM (both of whom are national advisors of the VMY). They invited me to begin this visit by offering prayers of thanksgiving in the community chapel. Previously representatives of the various groups had gathered there and explained their work and the situations that they have to confront. We were able to thank God for all that is being done in this country and for the ways in which the young men and women are able to rise above their present situation. The groups have lived through some very difficult times, times when for reasons of security their meetings had to be suspended. That, however, did not prevent them from continuing their work and their mission. This year they have taken as their motto: good work grows in silence…and those words are in fact being lived out in the same way that was done by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac and Catherine Laboure…one does not have to make much noise in order to do things well.
Many of the members, young adults, have been forced to abandon the country. Nevertheless, those who have remained in country are hopeful with regard to the future. These young men and women are professionals, workers and students…but all of them live their lives as Christians, they are sowers of peace and hope and the older members give witness to the younger members as they gather together on a weekly basis in order to share their faith and their witness as Marian Vincentians.
It is incredible to see and experience the energy and enthusiasm that is present in each of their meetings…their smiles and joy are the fruit of the peace that they have received and that they offer to one another. They are peaceful men and women and want to live in peace. They are sowers of peace in the midst of raging storms and as faith-filled Christians that believe that the harvest will be plentiful.
The VMY in Syria has given witness to the fact that good work does indeed grow in silence. They have also given witness to the fact that where there is a will, there is a way. They do not hesitate to offer their service to the community; they visit the infirm; play games with children who are suffering with cancer; they have clothing drives and distribute this clothing to children and young people who are living in the street…all this is done with a Christian message.
They are enthusiastic and receive much encouragement to continue to move forward and even though they have not been able to engage in their field trips since 2009 they nonetheless continue to receive everyone who comes to their door.
Syria is a place of conversion, the place where Jesus revealed himself to Paul, the place where Paul was enlightened and filled with hope, a place where Paul’s negativity was transformed into an activity that enriched countless numbers of people. I thank the members of the VMY in Syria for their witness to peace, a witness that is evident in all their activity. In silence they are doing great work and they give witness to that fact through the manner in which they have decided to live their lives.
Be assured that the worldwide VMY prays together with you. We have faith that through the merciful hand of God, together with the inspiration of Mary and Vincent de Paul, peace will prevail and your efforts will be compensated as a new day dawns … إن شاء الله (In šāʾ Allāh = God willing).
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM