By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 September, 2015
One of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades has been the impact of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq on the civilian populations as well as on the cultural heritage Pope Francis has said.
Addressing participants at a meeting on the humanitarian crisis in the two countries, organised by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and attended by Catholic charitable bodies and the bishops of the region, the Pontiff said, “Millions of people are in a distressing state of urgent need.”
He said they are being forced to leave their native lands while Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey carry the weight of millions of refugees, which they have generously received.
“Faced with such a situation and conflicts that are expanding and disturbing in an alarming way the internal and regional equilibrium, the international community seems unable to find adequate solutions while the arms dealers continue to achieve their interests” Pope Francis highlighted.
The Pontiff went on to emphasise that “Today, unlike in the past, atrocities and unspeakable human rights violations, which characterise these conflicts, are transmitted live by the media. Therefore, they captured the attention of the whole world. No one can pretend not to know!”
He said everyone is aware that this war weighs in an increasingly unbearable way on the shoulders of the poor.
“We need to find a solution, which is never a violent one, because violence only creates new wounds”, he challenged.
In this “ocean of pain”, he urged the attendees at the meeting to give special attention to the material and spiritual needs of the weakest and most defenceless.
“I think particularly of the families, the elderly, the sick and the children. Children and young people, the hope of the future, are deprived of basic rights: to grow up in the serenity of the family, to be looked after and cared for, to play and study.”
“With the continuation of the conflict, millions of children are deprived of the right to education and, consequently, they see the horizon of their future becoming obscured. Do not miss your commitment in this vital area”.
“There are many victims of this conflict: I think in all of them and I pray for all. However, I cannot fail to mention the serious harm to the Christian communities in Syria and Iraq, where many brothers and sisters are oppressed because of their faith, driven from their land, kept in prison or even killed.”
“For centuries, the Christian and Muslim communities have lived together in these lands on the basis of mutual respect. Today the very legitimacy of the presence of Christians and other religious minorities is denied in the name of a ‘violent fundamentalism claiming to be based on religion’.”
“Yet, the Church responds to the many attacks and persecution that she suffers in those countries by bearing witness to Christ with courage, through her humble and fervent presence, sincere dialogue and the generous service in favour of whoever is suffering or in need without any distinction”.
The Pope remarked that “in Syria and Iraq, evil destroys buildings and infrastructures, but especially the conscience of man. In the name of Jesus, Who came into the world to heal the wounds of humanity, the Church feels called to respond to evil with good by promoting an integral human development of ‘each man and of the whole man’.”
To answer this difficult call, Catholics must strengthen the intra-ecclesial collaboration and the bonds of communion which unite them with other Christian communities, seeking also cooperation with international humanitarian institutions and with all men of good will.
“I encourage you, therefore, to continue on the path of cooperation and sharing, and working together and in synergy. Please: do not abandon the victims of this crisis, even if the world’s attention were to lessen”.
“I ask that you all bring my message of profound solidarity and closeness to those who are in trial and enduring the tragic consequences of this crisis”, he concluded. “In communion with you and with your communities, I pray unceasingly for peace and the end of the torments and injustices in your beloved lands”.
Separately, the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo in Syria has said the city’s population has been cut by two-thirds in the past five years.
Speaking to reporters in Rome, Bishop Antoine Audo said that about 100,000 Christians have left Aleppo, out of a pre-war population of 150,000.
“One part of the city is controlled by the government, while the rest is in the hands of fundamentalist groups who are constantly attacking the area controlled by the Syrian army– and that’s where the majority of Christians live.”
He warned that there is “a real fear that our community might disappear altogether”.
He accused Turkey of “continuing to arm and welcome the fundamentalists” and underlined that people of Syria were losing hope.
The refugees are mainly young men, he said, because they “fear being called up for military service and don’t want to take part in a senseless war.”
While Christians are determined to stay on in Syria, he added that “there seems to be a desire on the part of the international community to see the war continue”.