12/21/2012, 00.00
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Christmas in Syria: Christians and Muslims defy war by providing hot meals to poor

Archbishop Mario Zenari, Vatican nuncio in Damascus, describes the activities of the parishes involved in the preparation for Christmas, despite the bombs and religious hatred. In a Catholic institution on the outskirts of the capital, dozens of children joyfully cut out figures for the crib. In parish halls young Christians and Muslims distribute thousands of hot meals regardless of faith, ethnicity or faction.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - "Over 6,500 hot meals distributed to the poor in a help center in Damascus. Scarcity of food is not stopping the parishes and religious institutes that are churning out fresh bread every day for thousands of displaced people fleeing the bombs." This is what Msgr. Mario Zenari, Catholic Nuncio in Damascus tells AsiaNews as he describes the miracle of the birth of Jesus among the Syrian people battered by 20 months of civil war.

"The joy of Christmas - says the prelate - is also celebrated in this climate of conflict and fear, and it is a challenge to the suffering and hatred now rampant in the hearts of the people." The nuncio emphasizes that several parishes in Damascus have not given up celebrating the most important day for Christians: "On 16 December, I visited a small parish on the outskirts of the capital, for months under the explosions of mortars and heavy artillery gunfire. In the living room there were dozens of children intent on cutting out the cardboard figures for the nativity scene. The children help us adults to experience the joy of Christmas through these simple gestures. Their joy is the first fruit of Christmas in this corner of the world torn by sorrow, where Christian families live every day with deep faith, going to the root meaning of this mystery: the solidarity of God and of Jesus with us. He himself has experienced the drama of the flight into Egypt to escape the Massacre of the Innocents. This episode is no different from what they are experiencing, the more than 500 thousand refugees who in recent months have crossed the border leaving everything they had. "

For Msgr. Zenari, the spirit of Christmas, does not stop at parishes, but spreads among the Muslims through Christian organizations that distribution of food and essential supplies to the displaced. "Even in Damascus - he explains - as in the rest of the country, bread is now a rarity, a luxury item, and is for many the only daily meal. Nevertheless, I visited dozens of religious institutions who work every day to give the population fresh bread or a more substantial meal if there are stocks. " The prelate indicates in particular the activities of a service center for the capital's poor, anonymous for security reasons, where 6,500 hot meals are served each day. " Young Christians and Muslims work for free. Food is distributed to anyone who requests it, regardless of religion, race or faction."

In this climate of war, the nuncio notes that charity and sharing impose themselves over a powerful hatred and resentment that are unfortunately the real weapons this conflict. "The Spirit of Christmas - he says - is alive in these small gestures."

According to a report released today by the UN, conflict between the Free Syrian Army and the regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into an interfaith struggle between Sunnis and Alawites which has now severed all links with politics, and is likely to involve Christian and Armenian minorities. The fear of mass murders in the coming months is provoking an exodus with entire communities and ethnic minorities fleeing across the border. In the report, there is also a new estimate of the aid necessary for more than one million refugees, which has  reached a record 1.5 billion dollars.

Inviting all Catholics to pray for Syria, the prelate states that "once the war is over the leaders of all faiths will have the daunting task of defusing these 'bombs of resentment and revenge' nested in people's hearts , to witness to love and reconciliation. " (S.C.)


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