Opening of Diocesan Inquiry: 26-10-1995
Mathilde Chelhot in Salem was born in Aleppo on 15 November 1904 to a wealthy family. She studied with the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, thanks to which she developed a strong inner life.
On 15 August 1922, at age 18, she married Georges Elias Salem, a wealthy businessman. Georges had an authoritarian and possessive character, but he was a good man. Mathilde had to be patient to calm down the difficult moments. They soon discovered they could not have children. Georges also fell ill with diabetes. Matihlde was close to her husband for 22 years. She loved him and took care of him, accompanying him on his business trips and participating in the various negotiations.
She was respected by the leaders of the great European companies. Her husband, recommended by Archbishop Isidoro Fattal, Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop of Aleppo, dreamed of opening a vocational school that would form future Christian workers: but on26 October 1944 Georges died suddenly.
Mathilde could have made a new life for herself, but it was then that she discovered her true vocation: to dedicate herself totally to her neighbour with a greater love. She devoted herself completely to the project left in Georges's will by establishing and running the "Georges Salem Foundation", of which she was president. Her family were the poor youth of the city, and she prepared herself to truly be their mother. In collaboration with Archbishop Fattal she went to Turin to deal directly with the Rector Major, Fr PEter Ricaldone, to entrust the work to Don Bosco's sons called there in 1947. She had a small house built near the Institute.
From now on, the Salesians would be her home and her family. Theres she would lay her husbands remains and would herself be buried there. In short, should would become the Mamma Margaret of Aleppo's youngsters. She was enriched by various spiritual experiences: a Salesian cooperator, daughter of Saint Francis of Assisi, cofounder of the Work of Infinite Love. As for charity, there was no charitable institution that did not see her committed as a supporter: catechetical society, St. Vincent de Paul Conferences, summer camps for poor and abandoned children, vice-presidency of the Red Cross, Islamic charity, work for young delinquents, She embodied Salesian apostolic energy to the fullest.
In 1959 she was struck down by cancer. In response to the doctors' diagnosis, she had only one comment: "Thank you, my God." It was a 20-month via crucis. In her will she distributed all her assets to various charitable works, to the point of being able to say: "I die in a house that no longer belongs to me". She died with the reputation for holiness on 27 February 1961 at 56 years of age, the sameage as her beloved Georges. She is buried in the Salesian church in Aleppo.
O Father, in the Servant of God Mathilde Salem,
you have given us a woman who, capable of "seeing with the heart",
promoted works of charity and the spirit of fellowship
among Christians of different denominations and with brothers and sisters of other religions.
We ask you, through her intercession,
for the gift of reconciliation and peace
in her beloved Syria and throughout the Middle East
so that justice and hope may flourish in hearts and among peoples.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen!