By Lisa Zengarini
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has 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, as he began his nine-day visit to Syria.
Addressing the Assembly of the Syrian Bishops in Damascus, which was also attended by Papal Nuncio Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican Prefect said funds will be distributed by the Dicastery in each of the 17 Syrian ecclesiastical circumscriptions. They will be managed by the bishops according to the most urgent needs in their respective Dioceses and Eparchies.
Special Conference to be held in March 2022
Cardinal Sandri also announced that the Congregation will convene a special Conference in March 2022 gathering bishops, priests, religious, lay people, and local charities, together with representatives of the relevant Vatican Dicasteries and the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches Agencies (ROACO). The conference will map out all the charitable projects and initiatives in Syria and define priorities, hence enhancing the "synodality of charity", he said.
Pope Francis’ solidarity and closeness to Syria
In his remarks to the Assembly, Cardinal Sandri thanked the Patriarchs and Bishops and Cardinal Zenari for their “heroic” support for the suffering people in Syria and for their relentless efforts to draw international attention to their plight. He conveyed Pope Francis’ closeness to the Syrian people and Church, recalling his repeated calls for peace and for re-establishing justice and the rule of law in the war-torn country, as well as the emergency assistance provided by the Holy See to help cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Among other things, he remembered the Holy Father’s Easter Message of 12 April 2020 and his video message to the UN General Assembly on 25 September in the same year.
The Synodal process in Syria
Another highlight of the Syrian bishops’ Assembly was the Synodal Process in the particular political and ecclesiastical context of Syria, where Eastern rite Churches are predominant. In this regard, Cardinal Sandri reminded that the synodality envisaged by Pope Francis for the universal Church goes beyond the existing synodal structures governing the Eastern Churches. “Pope Francis”, he said, “wants the whole Church to walk along a path guided by the Holy Spirit towards discernment, purification and renewal”. All local Churches, whether of Latin or Eastern rite, should therefore feel concerned and involve their respective communities in the process leading up to the Synod of Bishops of 2023.
Catholic Youth to lead a “revolution of love"
Following the meeting, Cardinal Sandri presided over a Divine Liturgy with the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Youssef Absi. He then met about one hundred Catholic youths who shared their pain and concerns over the present situation in Syria and their future in the country. During the two hour meeting, he encouraged participants to make their voices heard in the synodal process and invited them to to take the lead in a “revolution of love for human dignity”, based on the Gospel of Jesus and inspired by Pope Francis’ Magisterium, and in particular by his encyclical Fratelli tutti.
Cardinal Sandri’s visit runs until November 3. After Damascus, he is expected to visit Tartous, Homs, Aleppo, Yabroud and Maaloula.