11/02/2017, 09.56
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Nuncio to Damascus: 'Open hospitals', Catholics on frontline of healthcare emergency

Catholic and Caritas hospitals open for injured and ill, Christians and Muslims. Appeal for support for those who can not pay for medical care. Solidarity of Pope Francis. Difficulties for the civilian population, with rising prices and widespread disillusionment. Turbulent climate, with rocket launches and mortar fire still widespread.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The last two weeks in Damascus and surroundings of the Syrian capital, have been cloaked in a "turbulent climate”.  In several areas "mortar shots have fallen" and even "rockets have been launched" at night. In an endlessly critical situation, it is even more important to ensure the functioning of hospital facilities and to assist injured and sick people, says Card. Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Damascus. Speaking to AsiaNews, he commented on the re-booting of the "Open Hospitals" project to cover chronic deficiencies in the Syrian health system. "We are talking of structures - he stresses - that welcome all, Christians and Muslims, who need the contribution and collaboration of foreign professionals to improve services."

While international diplomacy, in Astana and Geneva, works to try to find a long-term solution to the conflict, people continue to die in the Arab Nation. Now the capital is also witnessing and escalation in the violence, "although - Card. Zenari – it has not reached the intensity of three years ago. "

Clashes between different factions, rockets and mortar shots, whole areas, villages or neighborhoods under siege, malnourished children, and  population without the basic resources to survive, lack of water and electricity.

"From an economic and social point of view," the Nuncio explains, "the situation remains difficult, prices continue to rise, and perceptions are still of great concern among common people. Poverty remains widespread and consumer prices, in spite of everything, increase. " Last August, the capital hosted - for the first time since 2011 - the International Trade Fair in Damascus. "I went to the inauguration, intervening in a short speech - recalls the cardinal - and the next morning mortar strikes fell, killing several people including Christians ... in this context it is always difficult to operate."

Hence the choice of the Syrian Church to launch targeted projects in the health sector to meet the needs of a growing population without the money needed to sustain medical expenses. "Helping poor people - says the Cardinal - remains our priority. In this respect, the work of Caritas is praised, which in the recent assembly of Syrian bishops made a change in leadership. After six years, Msgr. Antoine Audo, Chaldean Archbishop of Aleppo, passed on the baton to Jean-Abdo Arbach, Greek-Melkite Bishop of Homs. "

Among the many projects initiated by the Church, Card. Zenari recalls "Open Hospitals" presented a year ago and which involves the three Catholic hospitals located in Damascus and Aleppo.

They have been operating for more than 100 years, in a context where "over half of the facilities are out of use" and "two-thirds of doctors have left the country" recalls Card. Zenari. "Many people no longer work - he adds - and do not benefit from health care. 75% of the population lives in poverty. " Hence the idea of ​​"Open Hospitals", a three-year project developed in collaboration with Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, Delegate Secretary of the Dicastery for the Integral Human Development.

"We could not accept the closure," he explains, "and for that we have relaunched the activity; we intend to provide free medical services to the most vulnerable, cover the cost of hospital and outpatient care and bring the operating capacity from the present 20-30% to 90-100%. Pope Francis supports us in this project, which looks first of all to the poor and needy."

"Open Hospitals ", he continues, also means that they are "open to external collaborations: we can benefit from the contribution of hospitals spread throughout the world, such as the Bambin Gesu in Rome which has provided a pediatric team for the training of our Syrian physicians on the field". "We are open to everyone's help - concludes card. Zenaries - from doctors, nurses, technicians, to improving the service offered in our facilities."(DS)

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