‘You are not forgotten,’ Pope Francis tells Syrians entering 12th year of war

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA


A Syrian refugee. / thomas koch via Shutterstock.

Rome Newsroom, Mar 17, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that the Catholic Church’s message to Syrians as their country enters its 12th year of war is “you are not forgotten.”

The pope wrote a letter to a gathering of Catholic leaders taking place in Damascus this week, which was read aloud in Arabic on March 15 by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Vatican prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

“Although the war in Syria, now in its 12th year, continues to cause suffering, hunger, death, and the ongoing flight of Syrians, great efforts are being made to offer hope and future prospects to those who remain,” Pope Francis said.

“The present conference is an opportunity to say to the Christian community: ‘You are not forgotten; the Church remains particularly concerned for your welfare, for you are the protagonists of the mission of Jesus in this land.’”

The conference, “The Church as a House of Charity — Synodality and Coordination,” began on what is considered the anniversary of the start of the Syrian civil war.

Since the war started on March 15, 2011, the conflict has left half a million people dead. The war has also created 6.6 million refugees, and 6.7 million internally displaced persons, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Syria, has called the situation in Syria “the most serious man-made humanitarian disaster since the end of the Second World War.”

“It is a sad anniversary, first of all, because the war is not over yet and also because for a couple of years now Syria seems to have disappeared from the media radar,” Zenari said.

In the pope’s letter to the conference in Syria, he cited St. Paul — who experienced a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus — particularly the saint’s description, in his first letter to the Corinthians, of the body of Christ as one united body with many parts.

“When one part of the body suffers, the others all come to its aid, sharing in its suffering and doing everything possible to alleviate it,” Pope Francis said.

“Charity, experienced synodally, leaves no room for selfish interests, either on the part of those who give or those who receive, since it is conformed to Christ, who gave himself for others.”

The conference, held on March 15-17, was organized by the Catholic Church in Syria with the participation of Caritas Syria and other charitable agencies.

Its participants included Greek-Melkite Patriarch Youssef Absi, the Syrian Patriarch Youssef Younan, Chaldean Cardinal Louis Sako, Cardinal Zenari, Archbishop Giampiero Dal Toso, Bishop Antoine Audo, Archbishop Marco Formica, and the minister of religious affairs for the Syrian government.

Pope Francis thanked the Catholic charities in Syria for being “a tangible sign of the Church’s charity, nourished by the Gospel.”

“It is my hope that your labors in these days will be an occasion to deepen and revive the Church’s missionary spirit, blazing new trails to travel together and coordinating works of charity with loving attention to the poor and the marginalized.”

Pope Francis said that “synodality leads us to love the Church so as to love humanity with passion and thus to help.”

“Synodality overcomes any privileges that may distance the Gospel from life and render our witness ineffective,” he said.

“In these days of war and of immense suffering for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, let us embrace them in prayer and affection, trusting that a just and lasting peace may quickly be achieved, so that the work of the agencies can be carried out in that beloved nation, even as is the case today for Syria,” Pope Francis said.

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