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Stranded in Israel when war broke out, she turned to prayer

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Avec l'autorisation d'Hermance.

Aline Iaschine - published on 02/23/24

Volunteering in the Holy Land, Hermance suddenly found herself in a country at war. On October 7, 2023, the Hamas terrorist attack took place just 60 miles from where she was staying.

“It’s 2:08 pm and I’m scared. But I know He is there, He is watching and He will watch over me.  Abu Gosh, October 9, 2023.” Hermance wrote these words in her notebook two days after the start of the war between Hamas and Israel.

Originally from Touraine, France, she left for the Holy Land at the end of her business studies to volunteer with the Benedictine Sisters of Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem. Leaving in September, she was to spend two months there, followed by a trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The day of the attack

Just as her days were passing serenely by — punctuated by prayer, welcoming pilgrims, and making monastic products — on the morning of October 7, everything fell apart. As soon as she woke up, Hermance heard pilgrims talking about a serious event near the Gaza Strip. She didn’t immediately realize the magnitude of the situation, but the first alarms that sounded loudly in the village woke her to the sad reality.

“I had to leave for Bethlehem for the day. At first, we heard muffled noises, quite far away, but as we got into the car, we heard the first alarm. It was impressive,” Hermance told Aleteia. “Then we started hearing the detonations of rockets falling nearby. Hamas was firing everywhere.”

Without delay, Hermance, the other volunteers, the pilgrims, and the fourteen nuns of the Abu Gosh monastery took shelter in the basement in an area with no windows, to avoid being hurt by the shards of glass caused by the detonations.

“We heard about ten alarms in the first two days,” she explains. “At night, I slept very little. There were always planes, helicopters, and drones flying by. It was always noisy, and I was always afraid there was going to be an alarm. In that case, was I going to have enough time to get to the shelter that was a bit far away?”

The act of abandonment to Jesus

In the midst of this situation, Hermance took up a prayer that one of the Benedictine nuns had given her when she arrived in Abu Gosh. She had invited her to pray it regarding her professional future. In fact, the nun had read the prayer in an article by Aleteia, and she had now printed it for Hermance: The Act of Abandonment to Jesus, by Don Dolindo Ruotolo. It’s a long, beautiful prayer — often prayed as a novena — that encourages us not to be troubled and to have total trust in the Lord: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”

After October 7, the act of surrender to Jesus took on even greater meaning for Hermance:

Since I couldn’t get back to France, I began to live from day to day. I said to myself, “Maybe tomorrow we won’t be here anymore, we don’t know.” I put all my trust in the Lord. I said to him, “If there’s something planned for me, if this is the end, it’s up to you to think about it for me. You’ve got my life in your hands, and now do what you want with me. I’ve got nothing left to lose, anyway.”

A few days later, after negotiations with embassies, the consulate, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hermance learned that she would finally be returning to France. She said goodbye to the sisters, who wouldn’t be welcoming any more pilgrims for some time. Then she and three other volunteers set off across the deserted roads of Israel towards the airport of Tel-Aviv. She landed in Paris at 11.30pm on October 15.

A tour of France

Returning home with a feeling of unfinished business, Hermance decided to set off again on a tour of France. Her mission? To sell the scrunchies she had made to raise funds for three religious communities in Israel and Palestine: one Christian, one Jewish and one Muslim. “I’m a practicing Catholic,” she says, “but I think we take a first step towards peace by taking a first step towards each other.”

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For Hermance, the trip was also a period of therapy and personal reconstruction, and a way of continuing the mission she had begun in the Holy Land. After leaving Nantes by train, she traveled around France, stopping at the homes of friends and people she’d met in Israel. Sometimes, she also stayed with people she didn’t know. “I sewed all over the place: on the train … Then I’d stop off at cafés and ask if I could get my sewing machine out. Inevitably, people were caught off guard, so it made for great conversation,” she recounts. The abandonment prayer continued to be her anchor:

If the act of surrendering to Jesus helped me a lot in the Holy Land, it also helped me a lot on my tour of France. Some nights, when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep, I would put my trust in the Lord and say, “I surrender myself to you. There’s surely something planned for this evening, and it will certainly be a beautiful encounter.” And indeed I had many beautiful encounters. 

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During her trip around France, which lasted around 100 days, Hermance introduced her project to hundreds of people, having extraordinary encounters and sharing her experience in the Holy Land. Now that her journey is over, Hermance is reflecting on her plans for the future: to find a job, to be a witness of faith and hope, and of course one day to return to Israel. In any case, she now knows that all she has to do is surrender herself to the Lord.

Tags:
Holy LandInspiring storiesIsraelPrayer
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