Perfect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches Cardinal Leonardo Sandri is paying a 10-day visit to Syria on October 25-November 3, 2021.
This overdue visit is a sign of closeness, sympathy, and support for the Syrian people who have been suffering from civil war, violence, displacement, unemployment, and rocketing prices of commodities.
This visit acquires great importance since it is not a brief one but rather a extended one designed to tour several locations in Syria, to look into the terrible situation the Syrian people have been going through over the past decade, to provide support for the diminishing Christian population, to support their continued presence in the land of their ancestors, and to help them aspire for a better future with the closeness and blessing expressed by His Holiness Pope Francis.
Among the early encouraging signs of the visit is that Cardinal Sandri announced that Pope Francis will donate a total of $170,000 to the Syrian Church to help support its charitable work for the most needy in the country. The announcement was made on October 26, at the outset of the visit during his addressing of the Assembly of the Syrian Bishops in Damascus, which was also attended by Papal Nuncio Cardinal Mario Zenari. The funds will be distributed by the Dicastery in each of the 17 Syrian ecclesiastical circumscriptions which will managed by the bishops according to the most urgent needs in their respective Dioceses and Eparchies.
The visit was initially planned for April, 2020 and postponed due to Corona pandemic. Yet, what shoves into high gear is that it is engulfed with Pope Francis’ closeness and solidarity with Syria’s Catholic communities. This visit includes several stages and meetings, namely a meeting with the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria and the Divine Liturgy, which will be co-presided over with the Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek-Melkites His Beatitude Youssef Absi; as well as visits to the headquarters of Caritas-Syria, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Saint Paul Orphanage and the Medical Dispensary of Kachkoul. Furthermore, he will meet with men religious of Damascus and of the South of Syria in the Saint Paul Memorial, and with some diplomats accredited in Syria.
Cardinal Sandri is also scheduled to visit Tartous, Homs, and Aleppo; preside at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, as well as visit the tomb of Jesuit Frans Van Der Lugt, and the Syro-Orthodox and Greek-Orthodox Cathedrals.
This visit is timely as the Syrian Christians desperately need a solution to the daily problems that affect their lives mostly the absence of immediate, concrete, and tangible solutions that guarantee them a secured and a promising future.
The visit of Cardinal Sandri goes in line with the teachings of Lord Jesus Christ according to the Holy Bible which say, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:14)
This visit is also designed to express the Holy Father's love and solidarity with the "flock of Christians" who remain steadfast in the land of their ancestors while seeking divine mercy that can extricate them from the current imbroglio they are going through. Cardinal Sandra's visit which acquires the Holy Father’s blessing, namely the successor of St. Peter, is a divine-inspired one with the hope of preserving the invaluable Christian presence in Syria and consolidating their role as an indispensable component of the Syrian society.
The Christian Syrians stand as "the salt of Syria" as Lord Jesus said, “You are the salt of the Earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." (Matthew 5:13)
It is hoped that this visit will dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's, bring hope to Christian Syrians, usher in an opportunity for peace in Syria, as well as support Christian Syrians regarding their need to preserve their steadfastness and hope to bring about peaceful solutions lingering in the offing.