“I am a Sister of Charity, my name is Monica and my community and mission have been in Shire, in Tigray for almost three years”. Thus begins the story sent to Agenzia Fides in which the missionary shares these long months of anguish that the Tigray’s population is experiencing (see Fides, 6/11/2020).
“When I arrived in the Country, peace reigned and nothing signaled ‘the storm of war’. Yes, we felt that there were tensions between the national government and that of Tigray, we could see that many people of Tigray, who previously lived in other regions of the country, were returning to the region because there were tensions. But that’s all, until November 3”.
Sister Monica Neamţu describes in detail how things plummeted since the night of November 3, 2020. “We were left without light and without telephone connection, the next morning we hear the news: ‘Civil war’. I was born in times of peace so I did not have the faintest idea what I should expect. The whole Tigray region is blocked, after light – telephone we discover that even the banks are closed. Everything stopped. We are starting to see many displaced people arriving in Shire who lived in cities near the Amhara region – such as Humora and many others. They slept on the street, under the trees. The inhabitants of the city immediately went out of their way to collect some food to come to their aid”. “At the same time – continues Sister Monica – there was a lot of confusion, people continued to move completely disoriented, frightened, looking for a safe place. She felt that the soldiers had encircled the region and that their destination was Mekele, the capital of Tigray, home to the leaders of the region. This reality lasted for more than a week. Then on November 16th, the sounds of the bombing begin to be heard, a sign that the war was approaching Shire; the number of people who used to fill the streets begins to diminish. On the 17th, in the silence of the morning, we hear bombs passing over our house. Where will they fall? Where can we go? Then silence. A guard arrives and invites us to escape to save ourselves. All the people of the city fled to hide, hoping to save themselves. But we … where could we go? Could we find a safe place in this situation? Then silence again, a dead silence and one waits, what? God knows. Then again bombs. Around 10 am the first tanks pass, the first in a long line, followed by soldiers. For more than a week we saw more and more go by. For nearly two days, we hardly saw anyone moving on the street. Then timidly the people of the city began to go out. We saw some collaborators also from our health center, the small hospital which, in normal times, welcomes at least 300 people every day. We discover that we are all alive and immediately decide to reopen and put ourselves at the service of the people, especially pregnant women. We also learn of the many bodies left there abandoned around churches. Federal soldiers took possession of Shire. People felt a little relieved, if you can put it that way, because we only had federal soldiers and not those from Eritrea. Eritreans even fear their name alone. And their fear was well motivated”. “Being there in that situation was a challenge and it continues to be. It is not easy to see, or rather, take part in this terrible story where, in the name of justice, man raises his hand against the other man who is his brother. How can we not see and feel the desperation of the people who, in order to escape from death, walked for days without anything, facing all the dangers of the situation? How not to feel involved in the pain of so many people who cannot reach their loved ones and do not know if they are alive or dead? Is it possible to remain indifferent to the many pregnant women who could not find a safe place to give birth to their newborn and who for days and nights found themselves in the middle of the street? How not to feel touched to see how people would walk for hours in order to find a doctor, carrying their sick person on their backs, with a ‘bed’ made of some wooden boards or, who was more fortunate, with a donkey and a wheelbarrow? It seemed to go back in time and see people in the time of Jesus. How can you not feel upset in front of people who come to beg for something to eat in order to survive? Even if the situation does not guarantee us anything, we are happy to be alive, not day by day but moment by moment. And you thank God every day because even today and even today … you are alive. To the question “How are you?” the Tigray’s population answer “Thank God”. They did it before the war and continue to do so today. Six months have passed and this continues. It is always hoped that maybe tomorrow it will end and at the same time we live in the uncertainty that things will worsen and not knowing for how long. Even today, many displaced people continue to arrive and fill the city. Even today as I write these few lines of my experience, man is increasingly trampled on in his dignity, abused, mistreated to the point of death and even after. So this is my question: Where are you a man …? Where is your dignity as a human person? Where is your humanity? This is a bit of my living in Shire – concludes the missionary. Everything can never be expressed. What I deeply felt and that shook me as a person, remains there as a treasure of my history with man and with God, in this historical moment in Tigray”