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Return of Christians to their homes in Syria, Iraq is a “duty of civilization,” says Pope Francis

Hamza Al-Ajweh | AFP

Drying the tears of these children who know nothing but death and destruction will restore to the world its dignity

The “safe return of refugees to their homes” in Syria and Iraq must be the priority of the international community in order to prevent the Christian presence in the Middle East from being erased, the pope said in a speech to participants of a work meeting on the crisis in Iraq and Syria on September 14.

The two-day meeting concluded today at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome.

The conference focused on the Church’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, and aimed to promote understanding of the needs, and coordinate aid for affected populations. It was organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in collaboration with the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Eastern Churches. 

In the face of the “risk that the Christian presence could be erased precisely in that land from which the the light of the Gospel was spread,” the pontiff urged the international community to renew its commitment in favor of a safe return of refugees to their homes.

Millions of people have been forced to leave their homes, with great suffering, the pope said; it is a “duty of civilization,” he declared, “to assure their protection and their future.”

“Go beyond the logic of interests”

For its part, “the Holy See works diligently to guarantee a future for these Christian communities,” assured the head of the Catholic Church. It does this especially through the organizations present at this symposium, he said. Among the initiatives promoted, the pope mentioned “the great work” to promote the return of Christians to the Nineveh Plain (Iraq), a program led by Aid to the Church in Need, among others. He also mentioned “the medical attention being offered to so many of the poor and sick in Syria.”

For the pope, this need to support “the many needs of victims” also falls to the international community. To end the conflicts that bloody the Middle East, the Bishop of Rome invited the international community “to go beyond the logic of interests,” because “it is in drying the tears of the children who have never seen anything but ruins, death, and destruction, that the world will rediscover its dignity,” he said.

The conflict in Syria and Iraq is one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent decades: According to the UN, 13 million people need help in Syria and 9 million in Iraq. In addition to its diplomatic activity, the Holy See is actively involved in humanitarian aid programs. Since 2014, the Church network has allocated more than $1 billion to emergency response, benefiting 4 million individuals per year.

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