03/17/2022, 19.00
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Bishop Audo: Damascus conference is like Pentecost of the Syrian Church

A conference on “Church: House of charity, Synodality and Coordination” was held in the Syrian capital on 15-17 March. For Bishop Audo, who acted as the meeting’s secretary, it provided an opportunity to rediscover “all the ecclesial, pastoral and social riches” that “distinguish us”. Participants focused on the future, with particular attention for young people. They also prayed for peace in Ukraine (and Syria).

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The Congregation for the Oriental Churches held a three-day conference on "Church: House of charity, Synodality and Coordination" (15-17 March).

For the first time in a decade, the meeting was held in Damascus, placing Syria at the centre of Christian and Church life in the Middle East.

For Chaldean bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo and secretary of the conference, this was a "very important" event because “it embraced the whole Church in Syria: patriarchs, bishops, priests and laity”, brought "together for the first time" since the country’s civil war began in 2011.

During the gathering, “we really had the impression of living a Pentecost" and “rediscovering all the ecclesial, pastoral and social riches” that “distinguish us”.

The apostolic nunciature and the assembly of local bishops and patriarchs worked together to organise the conference in order to coordinate charity and social work to address the serious humanitarian emergency still left over by the civil war.

“Today we live and reap the fruit of 10 years of work, patience and faith”, Bishop Audo said. This “allowed us to move forward and value the efforts and sacrifices made. Fundamental for this was the contribution from ROACO (Réunion des Œuvres d'Aide aux Églises Orientales).”

"One of the objectives of the conference is to define the priorities for moving forward and optimising the [Church’s] commitment for the coming years.”

To this end, “We intend to pay great attention to young people and to the future of Syria, which is also the future of the new generations. We want to understand how to help them rediscover trust in the Church and in the country” after having seeing violence, migration and the loss of all prospects for years.

For three days, important Church leaders spoke, including the Apostolic Nuncio Card Mario Zenari, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches Card Leonardo Sandri, and delegates from the Melkite and Syro-Catholic Church.

Representatives of local humanitarian agencies were also present, like Caritas internationalis, the Jesuit Refugees Service, and AVSO, active with the "Open Hospitals" project. The latter is backed by Card Zenari and treats both Christians and Muslims.

Foreign delegations, including a large one from the Iraqi Church, took part in seminars and working groups, sharing experiences. In total more than 250 people attended.

“Over the past few years, the presence of the Church has been important because it was able to bear extraordinary witness. It even changed the views Muslims had about Christians and the Church.”

“We want to stay and strengthen our community outreach, organise our home and breathe new life in important and significant projects dedicated to families and young people.”

The conference provided a venue for people to share experiences and talk about their problems as well as start the rebirth of Christian communities and the whole country, which Pope Francis has repeatedly described in recent years as exhausted and tortured.

Now the time has come to experience the synodal journey, involving priests, bishops, priests and laity, men and women.

Conference participants also turned their thoughts to the Ukraine, where Russia is involved in a military offensive that has already caused countless civilian casualties and refugees, with scenes reminiscent of what Syrians went through during their own years of war.

“We prayed and invoked peace because we no longer want to hear about war,” Bishop Audo said. “We too are tired after 11 years, but like in Ukraine, Syria is also a problem, and an issue, that transcends the local and must be faced by the international community.”

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