Nuncio in Damascus: the weapon of charity to heal physical, economic and social wounds

The work of Catholic institutions is essential for rebuilding the "climate of trust" in a country that seems to have "lost hope", especially among young people. 83% of the population lives below the poverty line. Covid has exacerbated the suffering. Everyone's help is needed to help an exhausted nation. The Pope in Iraq "good news for Christians throughout the Middle East".

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The Syrian people are marked by "physical, economic and social wounds" caused by almost 10 years of war, sanctions, a health crisis aggravated by the new coronavirus pandemic that can only be cured "with the weapon of charity".

This is what Card Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus tells AsiaNews, underlining the work "of Catholic institutions" whose work is essential to rebuild the "climate of trust" in a country that seems "to have lost hope". Especially "among the young", who in this situation "of stalemate, wall against wall" find no reason to stay, while "83% of the population according to UN sources lives below the poverty line".

Covid-19 has exacerbated the "physical suffering" of a population already plagued by the conflict, although "the data show limited infections so far". However, Card Zenari continues, “the virus circulates and is progressing in a particular reality with hospitals in extreme conditions” and which function “only in part. And then we think of the war wounds, the mutilated”. Official numbers speak of nearly 12,000 cases, around 6,000 recoveries and nearly 750 deaths, but the toll could be greater due to underestimation in disputed areas such as Idlib in the northwest.

Ten years of bombing and armed clashes, coupled with jihadist violence, have caused a collapse of the health system. There is a lack of adequate facilities, drugs, oxygen cylinders, personal protective equipment. For three years the Syrian Church - with the collaboration of the Holy See and the personal support of Pope Francis - has launched the “Open Hospitals” project with two structures in Damascus and one in Aleppo.

"It is the third year - he says - and we hope to continue: we have treated over 40 thousand sick, poor Christians and Muslims, even if in the last period people were afraid to come and get treated because of Covid. This initiative testifies not in words, but in deeds, how powerful the weapon of charity is".

In fact, physical injuries are added to the “social ones, which have caused serious damage to a mosaic - the Syrian one - variegated and characterized by good coexistence. It too has suffered damage and repairing this fracture will be one of the tasks entrusted to religions ". The work, continues the cardinal, “is enormous, even if so far relations between the religious authorities have remained good. We need to work on this common basis”, taking “the Abu Dhabi declaration [on Brotherhood], accelerating on coexistence and restoring the fabric as a point of reference”.

Finally, there are the “economic” wounds in a “very critical context, with a recovery that is no longer talked about and still less seen. They are wounds aggravated by sanctions, which play their part, but it must be said that the reconstruction work has also stopped; an interruption attributable to various actors and factors. Then there is the Lebanese crisis, at the banking and financial level, with its repercussions on Syria. Finally, Covid-19 which has caused nations that had helped so far economically to shake”.

In this critical context, the work of Catholic agencies is fundamental because "it is capable of going beyond ethnic and religious affiliation. A charity open to all, Muslims and Christians, which aims - continues the nuncio - at the reconstruction of homes, makes up for food emergencies and wants to guarantee the right to study in schools”.

“All of us - underlines Card Zenari - can be the good Samaritan of the parable and help a people exhausted by war and Covid. Syria has run into too many thieves in recent years, who have beaten it and abandoned it on the roadside, disappeared from the radar of the media and from the attention of the international community. Each aid is a very precious drop, although Syria needs real water pipelines, rivers of aid [from the international community and world powers] to be able to recover from a critical humanitarian situation”.

The Pope himself recalled this in his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message, underlining the suffering of children in the areas of war from Iraq to Syria and Yemen. In this context, the pontiff's apostolic trip to Iraq in March is even more important, which he defines as “good news for Christians throughout the Middle East who no longer feel like beggars, but understand that they are in the heart of the pope. Beyond - concludes Card Zenari - to strengthen interreligious dialogue with the Muslim world, especially Shiite as Patriarch Sako recalled”.