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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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12 April 2018 - "A Mar Musa la situazione è tranquilla e anche nella Valle dei cristiani, dove sono nato e cresciuto, non ci sono tensioni. Certo, la situazione complessiva del paese è ancora precaria". Fratel Jihad Youssef è un monaco di Mar Musa, la comunità monastica cattolica di rito siriaco, rifondata dal gesuita padre Paolo Dall’Oglio (rapito nel 2013 e di cui non si conosce più la sorte), sita nei pressi della cittadina di al-Nabk, a circa 80 chilometri a nord di Damasco.

Condividendo con l'Agenzia FIdes le sue impressioni, dopo la Pasqua, il monaco afferma: "Si combatte ancora in alcune zone. In quelle aree gli scontri sono feroci. Le vittime sono molte, la maggior parte civili innocenti. La situazione è drammatica. Ma anche nelle zone pacificate o che non sono mai state interessate dagli scontri, la situazione sociale non è florida". Il lavoro non c’è, i prezzi sono altissimi. Le famiglie fanno fatica a tirare avanti. "Molte famiglie sono in difficoltà" continua fratel Jihad. "Di fronte a una situazione di incertezza, molti progettano di emigrare all’estero: Europa, Nord America, Australia. E' comprensibile, anche se penso che molti siano ingannati da false rappresentazioni dell’Occidente. Emigrare non è facile e, anche se si riesce a espatriare, la vita all’estero non è semplice".

Negli scorsi anni il monastero di Mar Musa non è stato toccato dai combattimenti. Le attività sono però diminuite fino a cessare, anche se i monaci non se ne sono mai andati. Da quasi due anni, lentamente, la vita sta tornando nell’antica struttura. Attualmente risiedono nella struttura tre monaci della comunità e due religiosi ospiti. "I flussi dei visitatori non sono tornati ai livelli precedenti alla guerra – continua – ma, soprattutto il venerdì (giorno di festa per i musulmani), molte persone, in maggioranza di fede islamica, vengono a visitare il monastero. Grandi e piccoli gruppi vengono a pregare, a meditare, a prendersi una pausa in un luogo che ispira riflessione e contemplazione".

I monaci e le monache, da parte loro, hanno ripreso le attività tradizionali. Pregano e si dedicano anche a lavori manuali: agricoltura, allevamento, manutenzione della struttura. "I monaci – conclude fratel Jihad - hanno ottime relazioni sia con la comunità cristiana della vicina Nebek, sia con la gente comune. Lavorano insieme ad alcuni progetti. Tra questi, vi è la collaborazione con l’ospedale locale per contribuire a fornirlo di macchinari medico-sanitari più moderni; è c'è anche un lavoro di carattere umanitario di sostegno ai poveri, in particolare i cristiani di Nebek, e gli sfollati di Qaryatayn". "La nostra zona ora è tranquilla. Ma il futuro è tutto da costruire. Sappiamo com’era la Siria prima della guerra. Non sappiamo ancora come sarà dopo", conclude fratel Jihad. (EC) (Agenzia Fides 12/4/2018).

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29 March 2018 - There is not only terrorist violence, gratuitous and destructive that affect religious minorities in Pakistan. The attack on the Methodist Church in Quetta brings to light the difficult condition of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially Christians and Hindus who make up 2% (4 million citizens) and 1% (2.2 million) out ot a population of about 200 million inhabitants.

In order to analyze the conditions and perspectives of religious minorities, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Bahai leaders met in recent days in Karachi, at a conference organized by the "Justice and Peace" Commission (CCJP), a body of the Catholic Episcopal Conference in Pakistan, which has been working for the rights of religious minorities in the country since 1985 (...).

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23 March 2018 - Rockets struck Brad, a site that has several Byzantine churches and monasteries as well as tombs from the Roman period. Many buildings were destroyed, including the tomb of Saint Maron and the Julianus church. For Syrian expert, the site held one of the most beautiful pages of the history of Christianity in the East. Not even the Mongol invasion caused such damage.

Turkish air raids have damaged an ancient Christian heritage site in northeastern Syria near the city of Afrin, a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, which Ankara-led forces captured on 17 March, Syria’s antiquities department said Thursday.

“Turkish regime planes bombed the archaeological site of Brad, 15 kilometres south of Afrin city,” the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums said in a statement.

Brad – which includes many Byzantine churches and monasteries as well as tombs dating back to the Roman period – has been on Unesco’s world heritage list since 2011.

Rockets “destroyed many important archaeological buildings”, including the tomb of Saint Maron of the Maronite community, said Syrian antiquities chief Mahmoud Hamoud.

Turkish planes also destroyed “the Julianus Church, which includes the mausoleum and is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, built at the end of the 4th century,” he added.

On 20 January, Ankara launched a major offensive against the mostly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which it says is allied with the "terrorist" Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The latter has been fighting for the independence of Turkish-occupied Kurdistan.

As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced, after conquering Afrin, Turkey is now turning its attention towards other Kurdish towns in the area in order to control the border region in the eastern part of Syria.

Turkish troops and anti-Assad jihadi groups have not damaged only Christian sites. In late January, Syria accused Turkey of damaging the 3,000-year-old iron age neo-Hittite temple of Ain Dara as it pressed its bombardment of the Afrin region.

For its part, the Turkish military denied the charges, saying that “religious and cultural buildings, historical sites, archaeological ruins and public facilities are absolutely not among the targets” of its offensive. Still, damages from its planes to Syria’s and the world’s cultural heritage are there to see.

In addition to the tomb of Saint Maron, which was discovered in 2002 by a group of French archaeologists, the ancient city of Brad also has several Christian sites from the Roman and Byzantine periods.

“This site is one of the most beautiful pages of the history of Christianity. It is home to three churches, a monastery and a five-metre-high tower,” Syria’s former antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said. "Not even the Mongol invasion did this," he added.

In recent weeks, experts have voiced concerns over some 40 Christian villages in the Afrin region, which Unesco describes as "ancient villages of northern Syria" and has included in its World Heritage Sites.

The UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation says these villages provide, among other things, “an exceptional illustration of the development of Christianity in the East, in village communities”, and must be protected and preserved.

Meanwhile, the BBC has reported that one of the last rebel groups in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, has announced a ceasefire.

The Faylaq al-Rahman group has accepted a UN-brokered truce, saying that the move would allow talks with the Russian military, Syria's ally, on guarantees for the safety of civilians.

Syrian troops currently hold 80 per cent of the enclave.


Published in News
Tuesday, 16 January 2018 09:43

LEBANON "More vulnerable than ever"

15 January 2018 - Caritas Lebanon: The refugee crisis is increasing, citizens increasingly poor. UN: "More vulnerable than ever", more than half in conditions of "extreme poverty". The increasing "uncertainty" of aid. Fr. Paul Karam: At least 28% of Lebanese below the poverty line. We must "encourage" the peace process in Syria, the war will have "consequences for the next 50 years".

The Syrian refugee emergency in Lebanon is "becoming increasingly serious" because it involves not only those who have fled the conflict, but "the same local population that is becoming increasingly impoverished”, Fr. Paul Karam tells AsiaNews.  The priest who is also  director of Caritas Lebanon, has been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian families fleeing the war for more than six years, and he is now warning of the danger of a "serious economic, political and social crisis" for the country. "The problem is increasingly widespread - he adds - and today we know that at least 28% of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line".

Recently, a Lebanese minister spoke of a decrease in Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has just fallen below one million. However, according to UN experts, the situation is getting more complicated, so much so that today they are "more vulnerable than ever" and "more than half" live in conditions of "extreme poverty" and "more than three quarters below the poverty line". The confirmation comes from an investigation by UNICEF, the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to which aid and funding to respond to the emergency are more "uncertain".

Three quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live on less than four dollars a day; often money is not even enough to buy basic resources, like food and medicine. According to research, nine out of ten refugees have applied for cash loans and are now overwhelmed with debt. Each household spends on average $ 98 a month, 44 of which are used for eating.

In this emergency situation, Pope Francis in his 2018 Message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees reminds us that in addition to welcoming we must "protect, promote and integrate". Fr. Paul Karam echoes this call warning it should  “not be lost in the void" but is essential "to awaken the consciences of the international community", often deaf to the growing needs. "The Church – he warns - must promote the value of peace, mutual aid and solidarity with ever greater force, promoting a peace that is founded on justice"

According to UN figures, 84% of refugees find refuge in Turkey (which receives 2.9 million people), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (over one million), Iran (979.400 migrants), Uganda (940.800) and Ethiopia (761.600).

"The problem - says Fr. Paul Karam to AsiaNews - is broad and complicated. The aid of the international community is diminishing and we cannot always count on solidarity and welfare". The emergency must be addressed, he continues, "by encouraging a peace process in Syria that has not really started yet. We must end this tragedy with negative consequences "on a regional and global scale”.

The director of Caritas Lebanon addresses those who have "managed" the war so far, inviting them to "think about the consequences that are more serious than the war itself" and involve Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey "for the next 50 years". There are many problems and urgencies, from housing to work, from the economy to infrastructures, he continues, "this is why we strongly urge an end the conflict" and call for "a real path of reconciliation".

"Meanwhile, the Lebanese are growing poorer - confirms Fr. Paul - at least 28% of the population lives below the poverty line and has no money to buy food. More and more citizens are turning to the Caritas centers; 2017 was a tragic year for us. Bishops, patriarchs, ministers, social workers are all aware of the seriousness of the problem".

If so far there have been no episodes of open hostility towards refugees, it is equally true that "people are increasingly tired of this emergency. There is the awareness of a social, economic and political problem to be solved".

"At the Church and Caritas levels - he concludes - for the Christmas period, we have promoted over 100 activities in support of both refugees and Lebanese citizens. These include the distribution of food, blankets and medicines to children. Our goal is to help the poorest of the poor. "(DS).(DS)

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