"On another occasion, I could tell you of the insults and humiliations Selwanos received from some European politicians. When I was there I was furious, but he had seen worse things in life. He promised to pray for them. He returned to Homs, where he served the poor until his very last breath."
Szymanski held up one of the drawings from an 11-year-old Christian girl from Aleppo, who had depicted her memory of the time when Islamist terrorists from al-Nusra Front, which fought against the Syrian government in the Syrian war, attacked her family, killing her sister and brother in 2016.
She noted that this was drawn only 2,200 kilometers (roughly 1,367 miles) from Rome, "the same distance by car to the south of Spain. That is how close Aleppo is to Rome."
"We have to be conscious of their closeness, not only spiritually, but also physically to us. This is what they suffered," she said.
"What can we learn for Lent, from such a family, who went through a cruel Calvary but consider themselves really 'resurrected' with Christ? What would we tell them, if we met them today? We have heard it often from the Holy Father that, 'with the power of love, with meekness, one can fight against arrogance, violence, and war, and one can bring about peace' for the entire Church."
Szymanski said that the testimony of persecuted Christians served as a reminder that "sacrifice goes together with deeply rooted love."
She highlighted the work of Christians in India to help the poor during the coronavirus pandemic.
"During the first COVID lockdown in India … millions of workers were stranded without jobs or shelter for days under the killing heat, waiting for a little space in the train to go back home," she said.
"A group called the Small Christian Communities, a network in India, which includes lay people and religious men and women, took it upon themselves to distribute food and water, as well as masks and disinfecting gel to those along the tracks."
"The members of these Small Christian Communities are as poor as the ones needing help, but they fully trust in the power of prayer and Providence. So they went back home … organized prayers from home, but using megaphones to recite the litanies from the roof so that those along the tracks could join them."
"We have to remember this and take it seriously: Hell trembles at the sound of the prayers of the poor," she said.
(Story continues below)
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Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.