Syria’s economy is so bad that many people don’t eat even a day, says Nonne
BEIRUT – The war in Syria is mostly over and no house has been left untouched, a local nun said. But now the economy is so bad that people look back on the war and say, “At least we had something to eat and could feed our children.”
Sister Annie Demerjian, Mission Counselor of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary for Lebanon and Syria, said she didn’t want to paint a completely dark picture “because there is always hope”.
She said that for working Syrians, a family’s monthly salary is barely enough for a week.
“Many, many people are really hungry. They don’t even have one meal a day,” she told reporters on May 25.
Demerjian and Sister Helen Mary Haigh, who is responsible for the delegation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary in England, Lebanon and Syria, spoke during a virtual press conference sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need. They said Christians in Syria and Lebanon are holding onto the hope of their faith while suffering severe economic hardships.
Demerjian recalled times during the civil war when she and the sisters of her order would wake up early in the morning in Aleppo without electricity; She said they held a prayer book in one hand and a candle in the other.
“Many nights we didn’t sleep because of the grenades and bombs,” she said, adding that the sisters continued to visit families and often dodged bullets and bombs.
Despite the bombing and the long power outages that followed, and once without water for 35 straight days, she said, “We have experienced the providence of God very deeply” and “every day, every day we have experienced God’s presence.”
Although the conflict is ongoing in some parts of Syria, particularly in the northwest, the situation is “getting worse” due to the country’s economic crisis, Demerjian said.
She quoted Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, who said 85% of the population now lives below the poverty line.
“Many young people are determined to stay in Syria even if they can leave. They want to (stay) be a little light in the darkness,” said the Damascus-born nun of Armenian descent, who was an engineer before answering the call to religious life.
With partial support from Aid to the Church in Need, some young adults founded Christian Hope Centers in Aleppo, Homs, Latakia and Damascus. They sponsor micro-projects, vocational training, qualifications for university students and after-school homework assistance for school-age children. In Aleppo, for example, 90 university graduates have found jobs as a result, she said.
Despite all the horror and suffering Syrian Christians have endured, Demerjian said, “The churches are full, packed with people praying with confidence that they are totally relying on God’s hand. And like us, they sense that one day there will be light out of this darkness.”
Haigh noted that she has either lived in or visited Lebanon for more than 30 years. “It’s very much a part of me.”
She said she never imagined the need for aid would be so dire in Lebanon, a formerly middle-income country now gripped by a suffocating economic crisis that the World Bank has dubbed among the worst in the world since the 1850s is described.
She noted the “dramatic” 90% collapse of the Lebanese currency and the devastating impact this has had on the country, leaving “90% of the people extremely poor. They’re hungry,” she said.
What was worth $1,000 is now only worth $40.
For schools and hospitals run by religious orders or dioceses, “some have already closed, others are in the process of closing, and others will soon have to face that possibility,” Haigh said.
“We should remember that Lebanon has been a safe haven for Christians, who make up a significant portion of the country.”
Referring to Pope John Paul II’s declaration in 1989 that “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West,” stressed Sister Haigh: “We cannot drop Lebanon. We must not allow Lebanon to lose its Christian people. I say that with all my heart.”
“It’s important, not just for his own little piece of land, but also for the hope and promise it gives to many other Christians in the Middle East,” she said.