St. Michael God's Knight Rome Reports: Syrian artist, Sara Shamma, fled the war with her family to start a new life in Lebanon
Sara Shamma was born in Damascus, Syria. From an early age, she was encouraged to pursue her love of painting. In fact, by the time she was 14-years-old, Sara had already had her mind made-up. She knew she wanted to become a professional painter. She graduated from the acclaimed University of Damascus in 1998.
"My art is a mirror for my life and for my experiences, and for my feelings also...And it is a way of how I see people. It is a kind of how I analyze the personality of all of the people that pass by me.”
Until five years ago, Syria was home for her and her family. The onset of sudden violence left a recently pregnant Sara no choice but to relocate to Lebanon.
"I was in the depth of the war. I was feeling that I am the war itself. So, I was really grounded in all of the aspects of the war. I was taken by what's happening. I am still taken by what's happening.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as many as 386,000 people have been killed since the Syrian civil war started. That number includes up to nearly 14,000 children. The faces of anguish, horror, and pain can be witnessed through Sara's realistic oil based paintings.
When asked if she would return to Syria once the civil war ends, this is what she had to say:
"I would love to move back but... I think when the conflict resolves, Syria will be a totally different country. So, I will visit it again and will see if I could stay there or not. It will not be the Syria that I used to know.”
Shamma has been the recipient of various regional and international art awards and her work can be found in private collections in throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
St. Michael God's Knight Rome Reports: Newly ordained priest helps his family convert to Catholicism
Coming from a family with a long line of Protestant pastoral work, newly ordained Catholic priest, Fr. Nickolaus Klemeyer broke the mold by joining the Church, and took his family with him.
FR. NIKOLAUS KLEMEYER LC
"I converted at 16 years old and also entered the Legionaries of Christ. For my mom, it was the moment when she decided if she also wanted to come. First I converted and then, it was like a domino effect for the others. Not so much just because I sought to convert, but a bit because of the testimony of my mom's life and the environment that we started to live in with a lot of contact with Legionaries.”
He grew up in Germany attending a Catholic school, but it wasn't until after he attended a camp with the Legionaries of Christ as a teen that he first felt the pull to the Catholic Church.
FR. NIKOLAUS KLEMEYER LC
"The most intense moment, and my entrance to Catholic life was through my experience with the Legionaries of Christ, simply because of 'Providence.' I was invited to live in Rome while attended a youth camp. I loved it. After, as a young man, I began to place the Catholic faith in my life even more.”
Now, the six members of his family have all coverted, even his dad before he passed away. Fr. Nickolaus said he realized "God wanted to finish his life in a beautiful way by becoming Catholic before he died.”
FR. NIKOLAUS KLEMEYER LC
"This is one of the great joys of our life that makes its way to the end. So it is quite a life, very lively, very cheerful, and we have a very strong family spirit."
He said the experience taught him that life is a circle that God fully completes and He will never leave any part unfinished. It's an experience this priest will always have and will carry with him throughout his priestly ministry in Germany, where he is located.
St. Michael God's Knight Rome Reports:Pope visits university: Do not be afraid of migrants. Welcome them
For a few hours, Pope Francis became a professor at this Roman university. Although many teachers and students went out to greet him, there were not just students among them.
"Is him a student?"
The Pope took dozens of selfies before beginning his lesson.
Then, four students asked questions. One was this Syrian refugee who the pope brought back from the Greek island of Lesbos. She's a microbiologist, and now researches at the university. She asked about the fear of refugees.
"Do you think migrants threaten the Christian culture of Europe?"
The pope recalled that the attacks in Brussels were committed by young people born in Europe, but who had not been integrated. He also recalled that one in ten Swedes is an emigrant, or the son of emigrants, but that they are perfectly integrated.
"When there is welcome, and they are accompanied and integrated, there is no danger. With migration, one culture is received and another culture is offered. This is my response to fear."
"Because there is war, and they escape war; or there is hunger and they escape hunger. What would be the ideal solution? That there is no war or no hunger. That is, make peace, or bring investments in those places so that they have resources to work and make a living. But if there is hunger, they escape.”
Pope Francis also spoke on global politics and asked that the tone of public debate be changed in order to promote dialogue.
"What "medicines” exist to contrast violent attitudes?"
"It's true, there is an air of violence in our cities. The rush and pace of life also make us violent at home. And many times we forget, at home, to say good morning. We say "Hi, hi...”; these anonymous greetings. Violence is a process that makes us increasingly anonymous. It takes your name away."
"In a society where politics has been degraded so much - I refer to the world society, not only here, to everything- it loses the sense of social construction, of social coexistence. And social coexistence is done with dialogue. And before dialogue, listen.”
It was his first visit to a Roman university. And the students, besides taking note of their class, took the opportunity to take dozens of photos with him, or to embrace him.
It was not an easy visit. Nine years ago, Pope Benedict XVI had to cancel his visit to another university in Rome because a group of professors protested the visit.
Perhaps they could follow Pope Francis' advice to "listen to others”, so the university becomes a place where dialogue can happen.
St. Michael God's Knight Rome Reports: A school that helps children escaping war in Syria
These children belong to refugee families in Lebanon. Some of them arrived only a few weeks ago, while others who have managed to escape the war in Iraq and Syria have been here for two years. They are Christians and Muslims, and learn to hang out together in this special school.
Having lived through violence, persecution for religious reasons, and lack of electricity and food have left wounds that are difficult to heal.
"Children in general are not easy to deal with. Especially children that are emotionally traumatized. They are special cases. You have to be very careful in how you speak to them. You have to give them a very safe environment. They want to feel loved, they want to feel protected, they want to feel safe. And I think that here, in our school, that is our most important goal: to make the children feel safe, before anything else.”
Some of the younger ones, like Mohamad who is almost a teenager, have experienced closed schools back in their countries for several years.
"It’s difficult because, first of all they are learning things that they should have learned at a younger age and are now learning at an older age. That is the most difficult part. Second of all, discipline. They are not disciplined. They don’t know the rules of a classroom. So what we do is to introduce them to the rules in the beginning. We told them what you can do, what you can’t do, group study sessions, interactive learning… We try to make it as interesting as possible, so that they can be excited to learn.”
Fortunately, the fruits of education that the school passes along are appreciated during the first week of lessons.
"I don’t want them to start learning, you know, all the letters and the numbers right away, but the simpler things, like asking for permission before speaking, for example, or writing in neat handwriting and not just scraping the paper. Those are huge improvements. They are huge. And, you know, from week to week I noticed a huge improvement in the kids”.
This initiative is one of the 20 schools that are being managed by the AVSI Foundation in Lebanon that follows the Social Doctrine of the Church.
"Even just playing together without hurting each other, without arguing and so on is something, it's a wonderful achievement. Just being able to see them play, like now, during the recreational activity they have during rest, say, after one class and another. When they come here to play ball, they are together, they talk to each other. We try to pass on these simple values that will serve them for life.”
More than 10,000 children benefit from these educational centers, which open a door of hope for refugee children.
St. Michael God's Knight Rome Reports: She has escaped the horror of Syria with five children and Europe denies them entry
Most refugees transiting the Balkan route are women and children. Their number has grown dramatically. While in 2015, 70 percent were men now 80 percent of these refugees are women and children.
And many of them are here held in Idomeni, on the border between Greece and Macedonia, yet they are being denied entrance into Europe. This is the case with Nisrine and her five children. For the past two weeks, she has been dealing with the realities of her current European hell, while dealing with escaping the Syrian hell she left behind.
"I feel it is impossible to live here with my children. I can’t bear it. I have been here for ten days. I haven’t had a single nights rest. They sleep, I don’t.”
While waiting for a solution, she looks at the photos that she has managed to take with her. These are the few remaining memories of a life that will not return and that seems not to matter to those who have built a wall for her.
"It’s difficult with five children. Yesterday when it rained, my children were all soaked, the blankets were soaked. I dried my children, I put them to bed. And I haven’t slept since.”
Nisrine is a widow. Her husband was killed three years ago with a bomb in Aleppo, one of the cities hardest hit in the five years of armed conflict.
"It's hard. She was a housewife before and my husband was everything to me. And now I am both mother and father at the same time. It's very hard.”
There are about 2.5 million refugee children as a result of the war in Syria. Many others have died in the crossfire or even hunger and others have been used as child soldiers.
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