“The Pope has freedom of speech, he has no political or economic interests. His are free, personal words, spoken without fear, raised every day in the face of violence. They are addressed to human conscience, and at international level, the Pope is fully aware of the matter at stake”, said Monsignor Antoine Audo, Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, President of Caritas Syria, referring to Pope Francis’ appeal during yesterday’s audience (September 28). It was Francis’ umpteenth heartfelt appeal for the “beloved, martyred Syria”. “Dramatic news continues to reach me concerning the fate of the people of Aleppo, with whom, through prayer and spiritual closeness, I feel united in suffering”, the Pope said. Departing from his prepared text, the Pope expressed “deep sorrow and heartfelt concern for what is happening in that already battered city – where children, the elderly, the sick, young and old, all are dying – I renew my appeal to everyone to commit themselves with all their strength to the protection of civilians as an imperative and urgent obligation.” Francis then made a firm, severe, direct appeal
“to the consciences of those responsible for the bombing: they will be accountable to God for their actions.”
These words echo the equally powerful condemnation of war made by St.John Paul II, in his memorable speech on January 16 1993 to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, gathered for the presentation of New Year greetings: “The moral and physical destruction of the enemy or stranger is a crime; those who indulge in such actions, and those who excuse them or justify them, will answer for it not only before the international community but still more before God.” The same condemnation was reiterated in 2003.
Monsignor Audo is presently in Italy to take part in a set of meetings held at the headquarters of Caritas Internationalis, where he reported on the tragic situation in his Country, notably the city of Aleppo, economic capital of Syria, more densely populated than Damascus, for years the scene of violent clashes between the forces loyal to the regime that controls the eastern part of the city, and the “Islamic” rebels, that control the district east of Damascus, “with a population of 250 thousand Syrians” who suffer the most dramatic situation, said Mons. Audo. “It’s the district controlled by the Islamic rebels who have been trying to take over the entire area by breaking through the old part of the city since the outbreak of the war. For the past week the regular army has been launching airstrikes. It’s a humanitarian disaster.” In the western part of the city, under government control, the situation is equally tragic. “About two million people have been without electricity and water supply for the past five years and we are daily attacked by the rebels with bombs and rockets.” But the most serious emergency in Aleppo is not being caught in the crossfire, nor is the lack of food, medicine and water. “The most tragic aspect – Mons. Audo clearly said – is
Death, which has become a normal, natural event. A spiral of violence, hatred and horrendous instincts swarms places and people. It must urgently be stopped.”
But it’s hard. “There are manifold responsibilities also at international level – said the president of Caritas Syria – involving economic and geopolitical realms.
International forces fight a war on Syrian land. Mammon, money, is the primary force contented in Syria’s battlefield. On many occasions the Pope has condemned the arms trade. We should ask ourselves who owns the arms industry in the world.”
In the meantime Caritas’ efforts in the Country are ongoing. “We make no distinction between Muslims and Christians, we are present in all the regions. We carry out our commitment in the medical field, in education, providing support to the elderly… We help refugees pay their rent, and we distribute food.” The Christian minority is stuck between a rock and a hard place. “As Christians we are losing everything: our presence on the territory as well as our century-old history. Nobody cares about us. How can I ask Christians not to leave, not to emigrate…? As a Church we do all we can to keep our beautiful Arab Eastern Christian heritage alive, but at the same time I see the suffering of my people who lost everything they had, after having led honest, dignified lives for centuries.
We don’t want money. We don’t want food. All we want is peace.”
Monsignor Audo launched a determined appeal to the international community: “Work for peace and everything will be fine. Peace is possible but it has to come from within Syria itself, from the Syrians who want to live in peace. Sitting around the same table with the UN’s support is a viable option.” Hoping that it’s not too late.