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20 December 2019 - Bishop of Aleppo: communities weakened by the selfishness of individuals. Baby Jesus came into the world in a historical moment torn by violence, deprivation and suffering, similar to those that today afflict Syrians and other peoples of the Middle East. The light of his hope has lit up in the darkness, and can illuminate even today the real lives of the people who live among the troubles of these difficult times. Instead, many Christians in Syria also allow themselves to be guided by selfishness and also use the ecclesial community as a kind of welfare network to be exploited, an agency at the service of their private interests. And this selfish individualism represents a sneaky trap that weakens and extinguishes the life of Middle Eastern Christian communities in the present time. Thus writes Bishop Georges Abou Khazen ofm, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo for Catholics of the Latin rite, in a Christmas letter full of considerations about the current condition of Christians in the Middle East.

Two thousand years ago - the Franciscan Bishop told Agenzia Fides, illustrating the key passages of his Christmas letter - Jesus came to a world marked by phenomena and conditions not very different from those in which we live today: crises, conflicts, wars. Misery and famine. Even at that time there were migratory flows in Egypt, towards Rome, or towards Mesopotamia: Therefore, with what courage could the angels accept the birth of Jesus by singing the glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to men? It was possible precisely because the birth of God made man was not a fairy tale, and it was not fake news. It was a real event, which surprised and changed the hearts of the shepherds who came to see Baby Jesus, and urged them to tell others what they had seen".

The novelty entered into the world with the incarnation of Christ - adds the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo – it is a promise of salvation that goes towards its fulfillment through difficulties, resistances, skepticisms and indifferences of which the human history of men is full. And along the way, the miracle that can surprise the world is always that of hope lit in hearts touched and freed by the grace of Christ, even when the historical conditions are marked by suffering and misery. In this regard, Bishop Georges introduces precious references to the current condition of local Christian communities. Considerations that move away from the prevailing stereotypes in the global media mainstream.

At the time of the birth of Jesus - the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo points out - the angels did not announce that event admirable to a single individual, but to a community of shepherds. Throughout history, the wonder of the Christian event brings people together and transforms them into communities. Looking to the present, the Franciscan Bishop recalls that so many reasons and problems, also linked to the Syrian conflict, have contributed to weakening the local Christian communities in recent years. But then he indicates, as the determining factor of this weakening, the attitude of many to consider the community as a kind of organization at the service of his personal interests. "With great sorrow" writes Bishop Georges, "I register the loss of the sense of community belonging in a certain number of adults, who unfortunately transfer this mentality to their children. We belong to the Church. If the Church remains united, the gates of hell will not prevail. And in the Christian community, each person is attentive to the good of others, before his own interest". Instead, out of this experience, each individual becomes more fragile and vulnerable, also at the mercy of social communication tools (the Bishop explicitly gives the example of smartphones) that do not serve to bring people together, but end up isolating each individual in his individualistic solitude.

Looking painfully at these processes of disintegration, Bishop Abou Khazen wishes everyone that it is precisely Christmas that also becomes an opportunity for inner conversion, "to remove all the selfish and individualistic ideas that have been instilled in us". The unity of Christian communities - remarks the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo - is a surprising testimony for all those who, looking at Christians in communion with one another, can exclaim: "look how they love each other!" "It is a miracle", adds Bishop Georges, "the miracle of love. We cannot reach it alone, but by the grace of God". "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you", says Jesus. We must ask for this blessing, seek it through small initiatives and simple gestures. In the spirit of the community, we feel safe". Even when Jesus came into the world, "people walked in the dark, absent-minded, and the divine light, the light of faith, attracted them together and brought them together. I hope that we too can see this light and unite together under the banner of Christ, the Savior of the world". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 19/12/2019)

Published in News
Wednesday, 04 December 2019 18:37

LIBANO 1500 Syrian refugees leave the country

4 December 2019 - Around 1,500 Syrian refugees left Lebanon yesterday as part of operations overseen by general security, in collaboration with the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Repatriation operations, which have been underway for some time but have so far been poorly applied, took place through the border crossing points of Masnaa, Qaa, Abboudiyé and Zamrani.

In recent years, even the Lebanese Church had repeatedly launched warnings about the danger of a very serious economic, political and social crisis for the country, linked to the presence of refugees "forgotten like the Lebanese". In the most critical moment, the Land of the Cedars welcomed almost two million people fleeing war and poverty, compared to a population of about 4.4 million inhabitants.

According to a note released in the afternoon by the General Directorate for General Security, which deals with repatriation operations, "a total of 1498 refugees returned to Syria" in the context of a "voluntary repatriation" operation. The initiative took place with the cooperation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The official Ani agency reports that a group of 500 Syrian refugees have returned from Békaa. Another 300 passed through the border crossing at Joussiyé and 200 from the settlements in the village of Ersal. Dozens of families have left the village of Qaa. Added to these is the group set up by Bourj Hammoud, in Beirut.

Also in the capital, a group of 71 families gathered at the sports citadel and from there was transported to the border aboard green buses, supplied by the Syrian government. Another handful of 25 refugees left Nabatiyé, in southern Lebanon, under the supervision of the army. Movements are also recorded in the north, with a small group - the number is not specified - which left Tripoli to return to their country of origin.

Before traveling, the children were subjected to the vaccination cycle under the supervision of the Lebanese Ministry of Health

Still in the north, several families of refugees long established in the villages of the region crossed the border of Abboudiyé, exploiting the transportation made available by Damascus for the return operations.


Published in News

17 October 2019 - The Middle East Council of Churches followed with deep sorrow and pain the martyrdom and wounding of hundreds of Iraqis last week, and is currently following with greater pain the Turkish attacks on northeastern Syria, which would potentially have "serious repercussions on its territorial integrity", and thus exacerbate the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons. Therefore, the MECC raises its prayers for the "end of all forms of violence and for the protection of human dignity which is the pillar of any peace or stability, while affirming the right of peoples to self-determination, in line with Arab and international instruments, and upon values of love, justice, human rights and common responsibility in peacebuilding". The MECC calls upon the consciences of stakeholders to stop "the cycle of war and violence in the blessed region of the East".

The Middle East Council of Churches, founded in 1974 in Nicosia and currently based in Beirut, aims to facilitate the convergence of Middle Eastern Christian communities on topics of common interest and to favor the overcoming of contrasts of a confessional nature.

Professor Souraya Bechealany, Christian Maronite, professor of theology at the Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, was elected Secretary General of the MECC in January 2018, and together with her collaborators undertook a process of restructuring the departments of the ecumenical body (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 16/10/2019)

Published in News
Monday, 07 October 2019 18:11

SYRIA In children the tragedy of war

7 October 2019 - Maronite Archbishop of Damascus: A childhood of anguish, bitterness and concern. Turkey is ready to launch a massive militant offensive "to the east of the Euphrates", with the aim of creating a safe area in the north of the country and favoring the return - on a voluntary basis - of Syrian refugees today across the border . But the real target of the Ankara troops - which seems to have received the go-ahead from the United States, which will soon begin operations for its own withdrawal - are the Kurdish forces of the JPG, protagonists of the fight against the Islamic State (SI, ex Isis ) alongside the US.

This morning President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he no longer tolerated "the threats of terrorist groups" [read the Kurds] and "he will soon move within Syrian territory". The words of the Ankara leader come at the end of a meeting with the White House tenant, during which the operation was discussed. In this regard, Donald Trump pointed out that "US forces will not support, nor will they be involved in the operation and US troops will no longer be in the immediate vicinity."

Following the offensive of the Damascus army - supported by the Russian ally - on Idlib, the last stronghold of rebel groups and jihadists in the country, the announced Ankara military operation risks opening a new front, exacerbating the humanitarian emergency . A situation that worries humanitarian and human rights organizations, while international diplomacy struggles towards the end-of-month meeting of the new Constitutional Committee.

On the drama of the Syrian population, and the consequences for children, the first victims of the conflict, AsiaNews spoke with the Maronite archbishop of Damascus, Msgr. Samir Nassar. Here's what he wrote to us:

Troubled eyes.

The Syrian drama is read in its full extent in the eyes of children, which reflect such a harsh and bitter experience.

These children, born and raised during the war, tell us many things about the brutal ordeal they have been forced to endure. For nine years now, with little or almost no help.

Before the start of the violence, in 2011, Syrian children looked to life with great joy and hope: now the same faces express anguish, bitterness and concern.

Anguish: before the death of parents, friends and neighbors. The continuous destabilization of daily life and the continuing waves of forced exodus. Anxiety in the face of enormous violence without mercy and daily instability.

Bitterness: in the eyes of children, in front of the indifference of the whole world, forgetfulness, abandonment. The absolute lack of solidarity, in the face of misery and enormous poverty. Bitterness thinking about ruined schools, the collapse of the educational system that suffocates the dreams of these children.

Concern: facing the extreme uncertainty for the future, the lack of prospects, the multiplication of social problems that break families already fragile in themselves and weakened by the economic crisis, the lack of future prospects. For the marginalization of those among the poorest on earth. What remains of their future?

What can we do to bring smiles back to those children's faces? How can we heal their wounds and allow these pure hearts to forget the nightmares of such a cruel war? Perhaps we should tell them to kill their hope, poor innocent souls?

This question becomes a priority, which all people of good will must face and try to solve. To this, we must add a true pedagogy of forgiveness, to ensure a real reconciliation and forgiveness between all the parties.

"Let the children come to me ..." Mt 191.14.

by Samir Nassar Maronite Archbishop of Damascus

Published in News

22 July 2019 - In Letter Hand-Delivered to Assad, Pope Francis Expresses ‘Profound Concern’ for Humanitarian Crisis in Syria. The Pope stressed this in a letter that was hand-delivered to Syrian President, Basher Hazef Al-Assad, today, by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Cardinal Turkson was in Damascus with the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari and under-secretary of the dicastery, Fr. Nicola Riccardi, and during that time, they met with the president.

“During the meeting,” revealed a statement by the Holy See Press Office Director, Matteo Bruni, “the Cardinal Prefect delivered to the Head of State a letter addressed to him by the Holy Father.”

The letter, he noted, “expressed the profound concern of His Holiness Pope Francis for the humanitarian situation in Syria, with particular reference to the dramatic conditions of the civilian population in Idlib.”

Here is a ZENIT translation of the Director’s full statement:

This morning at Damascus, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, accompanied by Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, and the Under-Secretary of the said Dicastery, Father Nicola Riccardi, met with President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. During the meeting, the Cardinal Prefect delivered to the Head of State a letter addressed to him by the Holy Father, which expresses the profound concern of His Holiness Pope Francis for the humanitarian situation in Syria, with particular reference to the dramatic conditions of the civilian population in Idlib.


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La settimana della Notte dei Testimoni, dal 12 al 19 marzo organizzata dall’Aiuto alla Chiesa che soffre (Acs) organizza in Francia, Lussemburgo e Italia una serie di incontri di testimonianza e di preghiera. Giunta quest’anno alla decima edizione, la “Notte dei Testimoni” vede “la partecipazione di testimoni di rilievo giunti per l’occasione dai Paesi in cui i cristiani sono vittime di persecuzioni e gravi violazioni della libertà religiosa”. Tra i grandi testimoni di quest'anno, suor Mona Aldhem, una suora siriana delle Suore della Carità che aiuta i suoi concittadini a ricostruire. La veglia nella Cattedrale di Notre-Dame, era presieduta da Monsignor Michel AUPETIT.

Tre testimoni di quest'anno per condividere le realtà dei loro paesi, Monsignor Theodore Mascaranhas, Segretario generale della conferenza episcopale indiana, che affronta l'inquietante ascesa del nazionalismo indù, Monsignor Fridolin Ambongo, nuovo arcivescovo di Kinshasa , che vuole stabilire la pace in un paese dove lo stato sta lottando per prendere possesso del suo territorio, e Suor Mona Aldhem, che nella periferia di Damasco e poi nel sud-ovest siriano è impegnata nella ricostruzione.

Published in Events

29 January 2019 – Cardinal Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria: after the conflict that tore Syria apart for 7 years, the Christian component of the Syrian population probably has fallen to around 2 percent. And the Christian presence in the Middle East runs the risk of becoming extinct not so much because churches are destroyed, but because men emigrate abroad, while families with a Christian spouse and a Muslim spouse will follow the Islamic religion. Thus Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, outlined the current critical moment of the Christian communities present in Syria in a synthetic manner. This was reported by the blog of the Embassy of Hungary to the Holy See, in the brief report on the visit made in recent days by the Apostolic Nuncio in Hungary.

The considerations on the current condition of the Christian communities in Syria were expressed by Cardinal Zenari during a conference organized in the great hall of the Péter Pázmány Catholic University (PPKE) in Budapest, in collaboration with the Secretariat for the Aid to the Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps program of the Hungarian government. The Cardinal, referring to the exodus of Christians, reported that after the Second World War they still constituted 25% of the Syrian population, a percentage that had fallen to 6% before the conflict.

Among the causes of this decrease, the Nuncio also mentioned the low birth rate of Christian families.

The event organized at the University of Budapest also included Tristan Azbej, Secretary of State for the Aid to the Persecuted Christians and Balázs Orbán, Secretary of State at the Hungarian Council Presidency.

In his speech, Azbej argued that "there are several answers in the world to the great challenge of our age: the economic, humanitarian and migration crisis, and we believe that the solutions chosen by Western governments are not satisfactory. They - added the Hungarian representative - have chosen to support migration, inviting people to leave their homeland, while Hungary argues, on the contrary, that it is the primary interest of every person to remain in their homeland".

Cardinal Zenari's visit to Hungary was mainly motivated by the official launch of the support offered by the Hungarian government to the "Open Hospitals" program, to finance the medical treatment of about 4,500 patients in Syrian health care facilities. On 22 January it was Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who gave Cardinal Mario Zenari (see photo) the official document of Hungarian contribution of 1.5 million euro to the "Open Hospitals" Program, managed by the AVSI Foundation. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 28/1/2019)

Published in News
Thursday, 20 December 2018 20:22

CAR Five priests killed in 2018

20 December 2018 - "But Central African priests do not run away because they are not mercenaries". "Central Africa seems to have become entangled in an inextricable tangle of foreign interference, non-fulfillment of the international community and inability of the local government" writes to Agenzia Fides Fr. Federico Trinchero, a Carmelite missionary who works in the Carmelo of Bangui. "The confessional element only makes the cocktail even more deadly" the missionary underlines, recalling the massacre on November 15th in Alindao, in a displaced camp near the Cathedral (see Fides 17/11/2018). "The massacre occurred in front of the inertia of the UN contingent that has the mandate to protect civilians", denounces Fr. Federico. "Among the victims, in addition to women, children and elderly people, there are also two priests: Fr. Célestin and Fr. Blaise. The courage of the young Bishop of Alindao, His Exc. Mgr. Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa, prevented the toll from being even heavier. Instead of welcoming people, who wanted to find refuge inside the Cathedral, he ordered everyone to flee to the savannah. If the Christians had not obeyed him, the number of dead would have been even higher. The Bishop, however, and some priests decided to remain", emphasizes Fr. Federico.

"A few days after the events, we participated in a meeting of priests in Bangui. Fr. Donald is present, who had just arrived from Alindao. "For some weeks Fr. Donald had been sent to help the diocese of Alindao. Donald has not yet had time to learn how to be a priest; but he has already seen two of them die before his eyes".

"The students in front of me are the future priests of Central Africa", remarks Fr. Federico. "They saw the war and now they are in the Seminary of Bangui because they want to do the same job as Célestin and Blaise. I ask them if they still want to continue the journey undertaken and if they are aware of the high-risk mission that awaits them. Odilon answers for everyone: "I am scared, mon père. I am so scared. But I will not change my mind. I still want to become a priest. I would like to tell Donald that I am afraid too. But no desire to change jobs".

"This 2018, where five priests and dozens of Christians were killed during the celebrations or near their churches, gives us a Church that is still young and fragile, but does not run away from the enemy", concludes Fr. Federico. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 18/12/2018)

Published in News
Tuesday, 30 October 2018 20:44

SYRIA Damascus national museum reopens

29 October 2018 - Msgr. Audo, Syrian Bishop: a "positive sign" for the Syrians and for the international community. Closed since 2012, thousands of ancient artifacts and manuscripts housed inside. Syrian Minister: cultural heritage "has not been destroyed" by terrorism. But the priorities remain poverty and youth migration.

The reopening of the national museum in Damascus has an "important significance" for the whole country, because it seems to testify that "we see the end of this great crisis" in Syria even if many steps "still need to be taken" says Msgr. Antoine Audo, Chaldean bishop of Aleppo and ex-president of Caritas Syria.

"At an international level" - as confirmed by the weekend meeting in Istanbul - positive elements are emerging that point to an end to the conflict. "This opening - continues the prelate - is one of the signs that seem to strengthen the reconstruction goal that has recently gotten underway. It is a positive signal inside and out. It is not yet time to celebrate the end of the war, but something is really moving in a perspective of real change ".

Last October 28 the inaugural ceremony for the reopening of (part) of the national museum was held in Damascus. Inaugurated in 1920 and closed for over six years due to the violence and devastation of the war in Syria. In 2012 the heads of the center had ordered the blockade to protect the artifacts and antiques present in it from damage, looting and devastation.

At the time, most of the treasures had been evacuated in great secrecy and sheltered in various locations throughout the country, in the territories that remained under government control. The decision to reopen is the confirmation of the stabilization attempts promoted by President Bashar al-Assad and the executive, to show the world an (albeit slow) return to normality.

The Syrian Minister of Culture Mohamed al-Ahmad emphasizes that the reopening of the museum is a "sincere message" to the world that the immense cultural, historical and artistic heritage of the country has not been destroyed by "terrorism".

Yesterday there was a re-opening of part of the structure, but the goal is to return to full functionality in the short term. "We will exhibit a part of the artifacts ranging from prehistory to the classical and Islamic era" explains Deputy Director Ahmad Deeb.

The museum garden remained open for the duration of the war, but the building was closed in concomitance with the first rebel rocket launches on the capital. At the beginning of the month the leaders of the cultural sector had organized an exhibition of finds and antiques inside the Damascus Opera House.

Syria is home to over 700 major archaeological sites, many of which have been destroyed, damaged or looted during these years of war. Both sides have been accused of violations, even though the rebel and jihadist groups have found a substantial funding in the trade in artifacts and antiques.

The most famous case of devastation concerned the city of Palmyra, Unesco world heritage site, conquered by the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) who beheaded the local director of antiquities and used the central square for executions. The area returned under government control only thanks to the intervention of the Russians.

The national museum of Damascus, underlines Msgr. Audo, "is a very important cultural center for the country. Reopening it means trying to heal one of the many wounds opened by this bloody war, even if today there are other priorities: fighting poverty, overcoming the issue of migration among young people and we need the help of the international community for this".

The "cultural renaissance is still far away", but as a country we can say that we are moving forward" concludes the bishop, and Aleppo too wants to make its contribution. "Here we have a choir of about twenty young people, led by a high profile choir master who have just toured in France. Through singing they wanted to give a sign of presence, vitality and recovery in spite of and beyond the war. The country must continue to walk". (Asianews)

Published in News

3 July 2018 - The rumors of the transfer to Lebanon have been denied. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch officially disavowed journalistic rumors and reconstructions that foreshadowed an imminent transfer of the patriarchal center from Damascus to Atchaneh, in Lebanon. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate - reported the communication office of the Patriarchate - will remain in Syria, despite the many factors that during the seven years of Syrian conflict led to the transfer of the patriarchal seat to other Countries.

The recent inauguration of a branch office of the Patriarchate in Atchaneh, in the Land of Cedars, also contributed to the rumors of a possible move to Lebanon of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. The patriarchal Antiochene seat has always been located in the capital of Syria, first in Antioch (now in the Turkish territory) and then in Damascus. An office of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate has been opened in Lebanon since the seventies, with the main purpose of ensuring the pastoral service of the Syrian Orthodox present in that country. Lebanon is an inseparable part of the territories of historical roots of the Syrian Orthodox communities.

The inauguration of a new Syrian Orthodox patriarchal center in Lebanon - the Patriarchate sources point out - represents, according to Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mar Ignatios Aphrem II "a response to all those who have worked to weaken the Christian presence in the Middle East". At the same time, the initiative undertaken by the Syriac Orthodox Church to establish a private university (the Akhtal Private International University, in Qamishli, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassakè, with a branch office in the village of Maarat Saidnaya, where the monastery of Sant'Efrem, seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate) indirectly confirms that there is no plan to transfer the main seat of the Patriarchate outside the Syrian borders. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 2/7/2018)

Published in News
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