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Pope Francis Says Christians in Middle East Offer Solution to the Crisis

Scrambling for water in Aleppo, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need

John Burger - published on 09/18/15

Church chooses non-violent response over one that creates more wounds, Pontiff says

There are many victims in the conflicts now raging in Syria and Iraq, but the Christian communities there are suffering serious harm, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“Many brothers and sisters are oppressed because of their faith, driven from their land, kept in prison or even killed,” the Pope said at a Vatican meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq.

The meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and attended by Catholic charitable agencies and the bishops of the region, according to Vatican Information Service.

“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,'” Francis said.

The Pontiff noted that the conflicts in the region have led to millions of people being uprooted. “Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey today carry the weight of millions of refugees, which they have generously received,” he said, without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have entered Europe from the conflict zones. “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,” he said.

Francis said a solution has to be found, but not a “violent one, because violence only creates new wounds.”

The Church, he asserted, can offer a non-violent response: she responds to persecution, he said, “by bearing witness to Christ with courage, through her humble and fervent presence, sincere dialogue and the generous service in favor of whoever is suffering or in need without any distinction.”

In addition to the destruction of buildings and infrastructures, he said, the war destroys “the conscience of man.”

Meanwhile, at a separate event in Rome Thursday, a Syrian bishop said that Christians are “determined to stay on in Syria and continue to give our witness.”

Chaldean Archbishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo told reporters that the mass exodus of Syrians was being spurred on in recent weeks by the welcome shown by some European countries.

“All those who were able to leave have already left, while the others are still trying to leave the country,” he said, according to Aid to the Church in Need, who organized the press conference. “Above all our young men, who fear being called up for military service and don’t want to take part in a senseless war that has brought nothing but destruction.”

The mass emigration has contributed to a drastic reduction in the size of Aleppo’s Christian community. He estimated that there are fewer than 50,000 Christians in the city, a third of what it was before the four-year-old civil war.

“There is a real fear that our community might disappear altogether,” the archbishop said.

Those who remain face destitution and misery, with regular bombing of the city, a higher than 80 percent unemployment rate and a lack of public utilities, he said.

“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 the Christians live,” he reported.

Archbishop Audo charged that the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict is a reflection of a tangle of international interests.

“It is a determination linked to strategic interests in the Middle East region; as Pope Francis has reminded us more than once, commercial interests linked to the arms trade are in play.”

Christians in the Middle EastIraqPope FrancisSyria
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