Cardinal Zenari: signs of "improvement" in Syria but Christians continue to suffer

In Aleppo, up to two-thirds of the Christian population has left the city, about half has left the rest of the country. Jobs must be provided for those who remain, education to their children, and "spiritual support" so that they can continue the mission of "bearing witnesses to Christ" in a Muslim-majority country. Next week, the cardinal will meet with the pope.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In recent weeks, "violence seems to have dropped" in Damascus and other areas of Syria, but not in “Raqqa and other parts of that province" where "heavy fighting" continues. Another critical area is "in the south, on the border with Jordan", but "things have improved elsewhere,” said Card Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus, speaking to AsiaNews.

The prelate is currently in Italy, where he will meet Pope Francis next week. The Holy Father has always shown particular attention for his "beloved and martyred Syria".

In this context, "the situation of Christians is one of general and broad suffering" which affects "the whole population", although in this context "minority groups, including Christians, are most at risk."

According to a recent report, up to 80 per cent of the original Christian population has left Iraq and Syria in recent years, due to the war and Islamic extremist movements.

As times goes by, Christians seem to lose more and more hope of being able to return. Some found refuge in the region, especially Lebanon and Jordan, in often precarious conditions. Others have left for Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia, the main diaspora centres.

This exodus is due to the high cost of living, the lack of work and educational opportunities, the destruction of Christian towns and the loss of a sense of community.

"Middle East statistics are always difficult to evaluate or comment on," Card Zenari noted, “but one of the most reliable involves Aleppo, where the Christian presence and migration can be measured.”

The latest survey shows that up to two thirds of Christians left "in search of peace and security. In Syria proper, it seems that “almost half” of the original population has found refuge abroad, especially in other countries in the region and Europe.

In spite of the difficulties, Syria’s Christian community remains an "active reality, both from the pastoral point of view and in terms of faith. The practice of Christian life and faith provides support to face hardships. In addition, it has been able to keep pace on humanitarian grounds.”

In Syria, a Muslim-majority country at war since March 2011, "deeds are more important than words to bear witness to religious affiliation. In this sense, Aleppo represents a model, with a Christian community that has always maintained a sense of responsibility for a place battered by violence."

Although those who have stayed behind bear witness to Christ's faith and teachings, the "wound" of migration still festers. "Anyone who can still tries to leave at present,” Card Zenari said.

In Syria, “there are more than five million refugees, one million sought refuge in Europe. Migration is one of the most devastating bombs that has hit the country. Departures have left a huge vacuum in society and in the Church. "

The problem concerns in particular "young people and poverty", as well as the chronic "lack of specialists, of essential professionals like doctors, engineers, etc. It is estimated that 90 per cent of Syrian doctors have fled in the last six years. "

In view of this, the cardinal called for "double aid" to the Christians left in Syria. "On the one hand, we need to provide economic support, jobs, help to pay rent, schooling for the children, medical expenses. On the other hand, we need to provide spiritual help, so that they can continue to fulfill their mission and civic engagement in the land where they were born. We need to help them to continue their work of bearing witness to Christ in a Muslim-majority country."

Against this background, the serious crises that affect Syria more or less directly are likely to blow up the Middle East are a source of major concern. That latest one is the dispute raging between Riyadh and Doha, in which Qatar is accused of supporting Islamist terrorist movements and maintaining diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s number one enemy in the Middle East.

For the cardinal, "What is clear is that Syria has suffered for years from a proxy war between major regional and global interests. Today seven or eight flags have been planted on the territory, confirming the complexity of a civil war that has turned into an internationally relevant proxy war." (DS)