We invite you to reflect upon the witness of Aida Baladi, president of the Vincentian Marian Youth of Syria, during the audience with Pope Francis, at the recent Vincentian Family Symposium in Rome, on October 14th.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” [Acts 9:3-6]
The sound of lord came up from Damascus; The light of heaven shine in Damascus.
My name is Aida Baladi and I’m responsible for the Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria.
Starting from the day that I’ve been asked to write a testimony about Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria, and until this specific moment, I feel terrified of the responsibility upon my shoulder since the request is to talk about the most important two things in my life: the Vincentian Marian Youth and my beloved Syria.
Therefore, I will do my best to use a couple of minutes to show the whole world through this symposium of the Vincentian family my testimony as a Vincentian Marian Youth member and as a Syrian Citizen.
In order to simplify my mission, I asked for a help from the most supporting group I ever met in my entire life: the Vincentian Marian Youth.
The question was also simple, “You as a member and leader of the Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria and you’ve been living under bad circumstances, and someone asks you about Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria, what you would tell?”
The answers were pure, specific, filled with love, ambition, determination, faith and hope; therefore, I simply quoted the following sentences, which I will share with you.
“We have been through a disastrous war which forced us to put our scheduled activities on hold frequently. Now, and thanks be to God, we get through it and we survived. We learned from this war to appreciate things around us and to start from scratch. We are a family, the family who stands up for each other and we insist to deliver one message to the whole world that nothing can prevent us from continuing since we are the youth that have been requested by the Virgin Mary, and we are going to continue with her blessing”.
Another answer that I got was:
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31. We will keep going with our slogan “Live” “Contemplate” and “Serve” through the Vincentian Marian Youth with the intention for each one of us.
Now, as a responsible leader, I will do my best to deliver the thoughts of “Life” “Contemplate” and “Service” to the younger generation of VINCENTIAN MARIAN YOUTH members.”
And somebody else answered me:
“In this specific time we cannot give up on Vincentian Marian Youth Syria, this is part of our childhood, part of our personality; Vincentian Marian Youth is a way of living so how you will give up on your life?”
And the last answer:
“The most important message we should deliver to the world as Vincentian Marian Youth is “Love” and the only thing that “love” requires is “Courage”. Because the person who loves does not let fear dominate him/ her.
Our country lives an unfortunate situation that made us weak at the beginning but we did not allow the situation to stop us from delivering our message of “Love” and “Service”. Once this message is in our hearts, no crisis will make us exposed to despair.
We were and still showing the world that there is a light in the darkness.
Vincentian Marian Youth Syria is divided into four groups and each one has its own responsible person. The number of members has decreased drastically over the years because of the Syrian crisis from 40 from each group before; to only 15-20 now especially with the group of the youth.
From the beginning, we have tried to live our slogan: “Live, Contemplate, Serve” and through this we achieved many of our goals living the Christian Life through the ways of Mary as told by St. Catherine Labouré. Service was the core of our existence.
There was a period of growth and prosperity for the Vincentian Marian Youth in Syria when it was one of the most important Christian youth in our city, Damascus. We were known for our charity, volunteer work and different activities such as fundraising events, summer camps and prayer sessions.
As the Syrian crisis started last 2011, the difficulty of making our activities happen also started. It affected us negatively. Our weekly meetings, camps and other events were mostly held in the House of the Daughters of Charity, a place which we consider a home, but was in a dangerous area that resulted to cancelling meetings and activities.
Because of this circumstance, we had a shortage of human resources most especially the ones who we consider the backbone of the organization. The members who were on their twenties were the main support doing the activities for the rest of the members were planning to travel abroad because of the unfortunate situation. Because of this, the activities, especially those that would require doing service for others suffered and decreased for the past seven years.
But now we are trying to stand again. As the situation in Syria is getting better, we also try to be better. With our last year´s motto “The good work grows in silence”, we continue to strive every single day.
With the mentioned circumstances above, we were placed in a difficult place. We had to make hard decisions. Should we stop our activities permanently or take the risk to continue regardless of the difficulties and danger surrounding us? So we made a decision. We decided to live. We continue to live because we are the Vincentian Marian Youth and we are Syrians. We live for the Association and we live for our dear country. And this decision made us stronger than ever.
As a result of this decision, we are able to continue and start activities for the members. For example, since the war started we stopped having our annual summer camp. But last 2016 we courageously made the decision to revive it. This year 2017 we were even graced by the presence of a dear friend, the International President of Vincentian Marian Youth Yancarlos during our summer camp.
This time we have Christmas parties, and we frequently participate in “Atelier de Noelle” which is a workshop for children around Damascus not only for our members, to make handmade decoration for Christmas. We also did several sleepovers (small camp for 2 nights ) in the house Daughters of Charity, the same place where we hold our meetings . This includes prayer time, games and a lot of laughter.
In addition, I would like to emphasize the importance of some people who without their support and prayer, it would be impossible for us to continue. The Daughters of Charity, especially Sister Monique Kharouf, our adviser. The continues participation of Father Charbel Naim, our chaplain who started working with the Vincentian Marian Youth last year is giving us his immeasurable advise. The spiritual life of St. Vincent will not be present in us if not for these important persons in our group Father Charbel and Sister Monique.
As a member of the Vincentian Family in Damascus, we are now trying to work with the other branches for one common goal, stronger together as we give life to the Vincentian Charism. Because of the situation in the past, and the better one that we have right now, we join forces towards our goal of Charity guided by the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.
The most shared & common words used to describe our belongingness are: Love without expecting in return, family, joy, light, way of living, strength together, message to deliver, sad & good times, duties & responsibilities.
With the country´s situation, the important therapy for the youth is to be united in prayers, united in a place where we belong; and feel free to deliver one specific message through Mary to Jesus, to live the “Life” “Contemplate” and “Serve” as our slogan.
In addition, we are all invited this year to participate our theme in the Vincentian Marian Youth Syria, which is “I was a stranger and you took me in” Matthew 25. (this is the plan for the next year)
Inside each one of us there is “Love” which intensifies the sense of belonging and that will create happiness too.
Last but not the least, I want to close this by saying that the 7 years of war did not make us cowards, we did not run away, we did not hide; instead, this war made us stronger, united, bonded with our belongingness to our country through belonging to the Vincentian Marian Youth in Damascus.
A special thanks to the responsible people who support us all the time especially to those who support us to participate in this symposium, Father Ziad Haddad, Father Charbel Naim, sister Monique Kharouf and others.
I am fully pleased and thankful to Pope Francis who always prays for the Peace in our beloved Syria.
Peace for our Beloved Syria.
Vincentian Marian Youth National President, Syria