Cardinal Zenari: Pope pays special attention for "dear and beloved Syria"

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Apostolic Nuncio to Syria Cardinal Mario Zenari

Cardinal Zenari: Pope pays special attention for "dear and beloved Syria"


In an interview with AsiaNews, Cardinal Zenari reflects on six years of conflict that have "shaken" him to the core. Suffering in solidarity with the Syrian people. The drama of broken families and a social fabric that must be rewoven. The hope that the talks in Geneva and Astana "bear fruit". The numbers of six years of conflict.

Using a metaphor, the six-year war in Syria is "a tsunami of violence, of suffering", a veritable "tidal wave" that has "swept away" the civilian population, households, ravaged cities. This is how Card. Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria describes the situation to AsiaNews, taking stock of six years of bloody conflict, which have caused death and destruction throughout the country. "Of the eight years I spent in Syria - continues the prelate – six have been during the war and this has shaken me to my very core”. In addition to his official role, there is an "involvement in their suffering" and the feeling of "solidarity" toward a people that has had to breathe the violence of war on a daily basis.

The Vatican representative in Syria, who was created a Cardinal in November confirming Pope Francis’ special attention for "dear and beloved Syria," recounts the years of war that he has seen first hand. "For example when, in 2013 – he recalls – a mortar fell on the nunciature. This is the life that we all share, even if the damage in Damascus was far less than in other towns " such as Aleppo and Homs. "I share in the people’s suffering, in solidarity with them - continues the Cardinal. “The children treated in hospitals, wounded by bombs as they returned from school. Children with bandaged arms and legs, eyes full of pain and suffering ". A war, he adds, that "has entered the soul of every person, of a whole people, of a nation".

The tragedy of the Syrian conflict is contained in the figures, published in these days by the UN and NGOs working on the ground: more than 320,000 deaths, nearly half of the population uprooted from their homes, from their origins. Almost 9,000 dead civilians, of which 17,000 were children. Out of a population of 23 million inhabitants before the war, today there are 6.6 million internally displaced persons; other 4.7 million live in cities under siege or in hard to reach areas.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 4.9 million people have left their country. And 90 per cent of those are living in poverty, another 10 per cent is considered "extremely vulnerable." The war has pushed what was one of the states most advanced in terms of economic, cultural and social development of the entire Middle East region, back decades. The educational and health systems are in a severe crises, the volume of business between 2010 and 2015 have dropped by 55 per cent.

However, according to Cardinal Zenari, these devastating figures and numbers "do not reveal" the full extent of the tragedy that is unfolding. "My visit to Aleppo - he says – was horrifying. Passing through the streets, observing the rubble and destruction, I have fully understood the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which we recite on Good Friday, when Chapter 1.12 is recited 'O you who pass by here, look, and see if there is sorrow like my sorrow '.

Skeletons of buildings, broken lives, tragedies that leave a profound affect: "In the days after my departure - continues the prelate - I learned that in one of the devastated buildings, in an area where they had distributed food and clothes with the volunteers of Caritas, they discovered five children who died of malnutrition and cold. And their food aid had also been stolen from them." The scenario of death and terror seen in Aleppo, says Card. Zenari, "I saw only there, although to a lesser extent, also in Homs". And even in the area of ​​Damascus there are major emergencies. "This experience, he says, really penetrated me, it is not like reading about the First World War, studied in history books. Here, the conflict, we experience it every day on the ground, on the skin of the inhabitants."

These sufferings have also created a feeling of great "participation" in the life of the Syrian people. "Every time I go to St. Peter, he say, I stop in front of Michelangelo's Pieta and I see the Madonna in the suffering of all those Syrian mothers who have lost a child, I've heard their stories firsthand. Of course, the destruction of buildings, streets and neighborhoods are impressive but the biggest drama is the internal injuries, trauma, broken families, children without parents it is a tragedy ". "How many women and children - he adds - I saw at Jibreen refugee camp on the outskirts of Aleppo, without their father without their husband, the destruction of the family is the most obvious legacy of this war, and goes much more deeply than destroyed buildings. We cannot allow ourselves to stop at the external signs, we must go deeper and really grasp the devastation of minds".

"Peace – he warns - is the first condition for the reconstruction of the social fabric. Before the war, Syria was a rich mosaic of ethnic groups and religions, it has been damaged. And now, following the priority of caring for the children and young people, another aspect that we must take into careful consideration is the reconstruction of society: from the economic, psychological and human perspective. Today we cannot find technicians to repair computers, to fix broken elevators, to restore much needed medical equipment". Today there is also a human capital "that we need to rebuild."

Cardinal Zenari concludes "I agree with what the Holy See permanent observer to the UN in Geneva said, when he stated that there is a senseless slaughter underway in Syria, which is the responsibility of the international community. I hope that this 2017 will bring a breakthrough. Of course, it is unimaginable that everything can go back to completely normal, but recovery is possible and I hope that the talks in Astana and Geneva will bear fruit."

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 13:52
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