By Vatican News staff writer
A video message from Pope Francis set the tone for the online meeting organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development aimed at coordinating humanitarian aid and development for the suffering populations in Syria and Iraq.
“Every effort—be it small or great—carried out to promote the path of peace,” the Pope said to the participants, “is like adding a brick to the structure of a just society, which is open and welcoming, and where everyone can find a place to dwell in peace.”
The online meeting on Thursday afternoon was attended by about fifty Catholic charities, representatives of local episcopates, ecclesial institutions and religious congregations working in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries. Apostolic nuncios to the region were also present to emphasize the closeness and support of Pope Francis and the Holy See.
Crises exacerbated by Covid-19
A message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was read to the gathering. He noted that the humanitarian crisis in the suffering Mideast nations is aggravated by political deadlock, institutional collapse and, more recently, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Faced with this situation "of absolute gravity," the Cardinal encouraged everyone to continue "the projects in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey," and called for a special commitment in Syria and Lebanon.
Regarding Syria, he said, "Today more than ever we must not turn away from the needs of the population, but renew, as Church, our charitable commitment towards the most fragile and needy persons.”
Focusing on the situation in Lebanon, "hit by the collapse of the financial system, the socio-economic crisis and the explosion in the port of Beirut," Cardinal Parolin said there is an urgent need for "a strong commitment not only to reconstruct but also to support Catholic schools and hospitals, two cornerstones of the Christian presence in the country and throughout the region."
Holy See's commitment
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, expressed his hope that "recent Abrahamic agreements" could foster "greater stability", and that the various challenges on the ground, "from humanitarian to political", would be "addressed with sincerity and courage."
"Whenever dioceses, parishes, associations, volunteers or individuals work to support those who are abandoned or in need," Archbishop Gallagher noted, "the Gospel gains new traction.” He also reaffirmed the Holy See's commitment to continue to work for peace.
Situation of Christian communities
The situation of Christian communities in the countries affected by war was the focus of the speech of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. He described emigration as a "wound" that affects young people in particular, and expressed his hope that everything possible will be done to avoid a "monochrome Middle East that would not reflect its rich human and historical reality."
In this vast region there are men and women who wish to return to their land, he continued, to contribute to the birth of a new Syria, a new Iraq, in safety and according to “the principles of non-violence, dialogue, respect for human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, pluralism, democracy, citizenship, rule of law, separation of religion and state."
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, focused his intervention on the theme of migrants and displaced persons, while Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, offered his personal testimony on the human and material consequences of the crisis in the country that, according to United Nations sources, sees 11 million people in need of assistance.
Role of Catholic agencies
Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Aloysius John, Secretary-General of Caritas Internationalis, closed the meeting reflecting on the role of Catholic agencies and on how they can promote the transition from the emergency phase to that of integral development.
The Cardinal highlighted the need to “give people a sign of concrete hope to allow them to return to their countries and live in safety". John described the work and assistance provided by Caritas to "to support, accompany and defend" the “innocent victims" of conflict, especially the "huge number of Christian minorities who are the most vulnerable.”
Call to lift sanctions
He also called for the immediate lifting of sanctions, to alleviate the suffering of the local population and allow humanitarian organizations to respond to the urgent needs related to the approach of winter and the Covid-19 pandemic.
John concluded with an appeal for an increase in financial resources to be allocated to aid programs to rebuild the social fabric and meet the needs of local communities, and to be able to provide greater support to civil society organizations that offer humanitarian aid and promote rehabilitation and development.