Pope Francis expresses again his sorrow over this 'beloved and martyred' people.
Receiving the Greek Melkite bishops gathered in Rome for a Synod, Pope Francis renewed his appeal to the international community to find a “just and equitable” solution “to the tragedy of Syria” on June 20, 2022.
At the same time, Cardinal Mario Zenari, nuncio to Syria since 2008, spoke to Vatican Radio about the catastrophic situation in which the country finds itself today. He also reported that the Pope had asked him to remain in his post despite his 76 years and 13 years of presence in Damascus.
“The tragedies of recent months, which unfortunately force us to turn our gaze toward Eastern Europe, must not make us forget what has been happening in your land for the past 12 years,” Pope Francis lamented to the 30 or so Greek Catholic bishops present this week in Rome around their patriarch Youssef Absi, who came from Damascus.
Before them, the Argentine Pontiff recalled his first year of pontificate, in 2013, “when a bombing on Syria was in preparation.”
“We organized a night of prayer, here in St. Peter’s,” he recalled, reporting that the famous phrase “beloved and martyred Syria” was born from that vigil where even Muslims “who had brought their rugs” came to pray.
The years have passed, with their “thousands of dead and wounded, millions of refugees in the country and abroad,” commented the Argentine Pope.
Referring to his meeting with a young Syrian man with a look “almost empty of hope,” the Pope expressed his dismay: “We cannot allow the last spark of hope to be taken from the eyes and hearts of young people and families!” And he launched yet another appeal to all those who have responsibilities, in the country and in the international community, to put an end to these years of chaos.
Cardinal Zenari tells the Pope about the suffering of the Syrian people
The meeting comes three days after the private audience between Pope Francis and his nuncio in Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari. “Unfortunately, I also bring to your table the suffering that is even worse than the one I brought to you last year,” the diplomat apologized to the Pontiff.
In Syria since 2008, the nuncio thus brought up the “despair” of a people who feel “forgotten” while the Lebanese crisis, Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine have placed the media radar far from this country, still hit by international sanctions.
While there were 23 million people in Syria before the war, the United Nations now estimates that there are about 14 million displaced people – half of them within the country.
“These people, you can imagine, do not live in hotels but sleep under the stars, outside, even in winter when the climate is very harsh,” insists the 76-year-old nuncio to Vatican Radio.
Born in Verona in 1946, Mario Zenari has already spent 13 years in Damascus. Although he should have retired a year ago, the Pope wants him to continue his work, as he told him again during Saturday’s audience. “The Holy Father encouraged me. He told me: ‘I have given a nuncio-cardinal to Syria.’ And I understood,” he confided, explaining that as long as the Lord gives him health, he will stay. “I don’t feel indispensable. But if we encourage Christians to stay, it is normal that I stay,” he concludes.