11/27/2012, 00.00
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Nuncio in Damascus: Do not forget the Syrians and pray for them

For Msgr. Mario Zenari, the conflict is likely to fall into oblivion. The dead are no longer news. Yesterday 10 children were killed in a neighborhood south of the capital. The Church is the only remaining institution offering hope and help to the people affected by the bombings, starvation and kidnappings. The invitation to say a prayer for the Syrians in view of Christmas.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - "The violence in Syria is in danger of becoming a forgotten conflict. At first the dead were news. Now the victims are increasing day by day, there is talk of even hundreds killed, but no one says anything, it has become routine. Like all wars, forgetfulness will envelop the Syrian war, too." With this dramatic confession, Msgr. Mario Zenari, the Papal Nuncio in Syria, told AsiaNews of the plight of the people of Damascus, the last town to officially enter the war. "Because of the embargo", he explains, "it is difficult to get humanitarian aid, but in the upcoming season of Advent I invite you all to pray for Syria, to devote a moment of the day to the suffering of these people. Do not let the suffering endured by the Syrians be forgotten."

The prelate said that from the beginning of November, "the humanitarian situation is hell; it has also involved the capital, now transformed into an armored city." The drama is especially acute in the suburbs: Darayya, Qudssaya, Irbin. Here they fight day and night, the bombs have pulverized even the few houses left standing. Yesterday, 76 people died in bombings. Among these were also 10 children struck by a cluster bomb while playing in a soccer field located in a southern district of the capital.

"Several of my employees", said Msgr. Zenari, "have been living in the Nunciature, because they cannot return to their homes, others no longer have a roof and spend the night in basements or in makeshift shelters. The parishes have turned into dormitories. The convents try to offer hospitality to everyone, even in the garden." "But now", continues the nuncio, "with the arrival of displaced people, they are in danger of dying of starvation and the cold. Every day I receive calls from religious and priests who ask me: What can we do for these people?. The Church has made all its spaces available, from the office rooms, to the storerooms, to the very places of worship. However, without external aid and the possibility of a ceasefire, even these efforts are likely to be a small drop in the bucket."

Bishop Zenari confesses that the most common question among the Syrians is: "How long will this war last?".  Since the last attempts in June by Kofi Annan to obtain a ceasefire, the conflict is no longer a temporary emergency, but has become a daily reality that seems endless. "This uncertainty", said the nuncio, "is killing the hope of returning to normality, which adds to the pain for their loved ones killed."

Having recently returned from a trip to Italy, in a short time the prelate witnessed the war's deterioration: "Now the population lives in even more dramatic conditions than a few months ago. To the pain for the bombings, and the vendettas among political and religious groups, there has also been added local crime, which sides with no one. There are hundreds of kidnappings in the country that are wiping out families, not just rich ones, but now even those of the poorest. These criminals by their own admission do not support any political or military faction. They are exploiting the climate of instability for their own interests. The media, unfortunately, does not talk about it, but many families, even here in Damascus, are affected by this scourge, which has made their lives even more painful."

The diplomat explained that there are two types of kidnappings. The first is political and is used by groups on both sides to demand the release of prisoners. The second is motivated by ransom.

This is very common and is forcing the population even to take up public collections to free their loved ones, who often risk of being killed anyway in the general indifference. The Nuncio said that the Church is active also in this field and in all the parishes where there are these cases, committees have been set up to negotiate with the kidnappers. "The Church", he affirms, "is the only real institution that has remained intact in the country, where every State and private body is breaking apart. Everyone turns to her: Christians, Muslims, Alawites and Sunnis. Clergymen, priests, religious men and women often attempt, at the risk of their lives, to bring reconciliation and forgiveness even where it seems impossible."

According to the prelate, we must prevent this war from falling into oblivion.  The West has a duty to inform itself, to try to understand this situation, even if the media and governments are prone to easy answers. Msgr. Zenari clarifies that there is no Arab Spring occurring in Syria, as it has in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya. After a year of riots and demonstrations, too many external factors have entered into this war. The population has no voice and has only one desire: to go back to living. (SC)



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