01/24/2017, 13.00
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Vicar of Aleppo: Christians and Muslims celebrate Card. Zenari and papal delegate

The apostolic nuncio and under-secretary of the Congregation for Integral Human Development visited the northern metropolis from 18 to 23 the. Msgr. Abou Khazen: "Joy" of the faithful for our continued "presence." The "gratitude" of Muslims who "say they have learned charity from us." The cautious "hope" in Astana talks, to reach a "cease fire".


Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The joy of the Christian community which “charged" the Apostolic Nuncio and the Vatican representative "to bring greetings to Pope Francis"; the feeling of gratitude and emotion of many Muslims, who "say they have learned from charity 'you Christians'." This is what the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Mons. Georges Abou Khazen, tells AsiaNews at the conclusion of the official visit of Card. Mario Zenari and Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, under-secretary of the Congregation for Integral Human Development. "Christians, not just of Aleppo - adds the prelate - have seen and heard that we are very close to the community not only in charity and testimony, but also presence."

From January 18 to 23, on behalf of Pope Francis, the top Vatican official, and the papal representative in Syria visited the metropolis in northern Syria, the former epicenter of the conflict and now under full government control. This was the first official visit by a Holy See representative since the end of hostilities.

In a statement the Department for Integral Human Development  explains that the delegation met with "the Christian communities and their pastors," who "have expressed gratitude to the Pope for his constant concern for the beloved Syria." The statement continued, the visit "to Catholic charitable institutions and some refugee camps" was of particular significance.

The visit was to a Caritas center in Aleppo Hanano district was deeply moving as was the ecumenical prayer service during the Week for Christian Unity. Following this, meetings with representatives of Islam in the interests of peace and reconciliation in a country still battered today by the conflict, despite the timid attempts of international diplomacy such as the current meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan.

"We visited hospitals - said Msgr. Abou Khazen -, met with bishops and priests, religious and many faithful. We had the opportunity to visit two refugee camps together with the pastors and members of the Jesuit Refugee Service. We entered in cathedrals and churches destroyed or damaged by bombing (pictured), the Citadel and the great mosque of Aleppo ".

Msgr. Dal Toso and Card. Zenari, says the vicar, "were very moved by what they saw. For us, this meeting was a further sign of hope and joy. There were very significant meetings with the faithful, one dedicated to young people and the second open to the community. "

The visit of Cardinal and high Vatican official also drew attention to the religious and secular personalities of the city, of Muslim leaders and administrators "who wanted to meet and greet the Christian authorities". "We then visited the Mufti of Aleppo - underlines Msgr. Abou Khazen - who could not come in person due to illness. The Muslim leader greatly appreciated our gesture."

It is only the second time that the apostolic nuncio, now a cardinal, was able to visit Aleppo since the war began in March 2011. "He made a beautiful gesture - says the Apostolic Vicar - saying that his crimson is the blood of the innocent victims, children, and every time he wears it, his thoughts go to them and to the suffering that Syria is experiencing."

Although today the city is free from the conflict, the situation in Aleppo remains difficult; there is no electricity and heating. In addition, the archbishop said, the Islamic state militia cut water supplies from the Euphrates and the city has been without water for 12 days. However, he adds, "there is desire to leave, to rebuild, to revive the city. A hope that we have seen in the eyes of children and families, all Muslim, whom we met in the Jibrin refugee camps. Their joy, their enthusiasm in our encounter, their eyes devoid of hate are indeed a great sign of hope. "

Meanwhile in Astana the second day of peace talks between the government and opposition is in progress, mediated by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The goal is to strengthen the truce in force since the end of December, to be extended to the entire country with the exception of jihadist groups, including the Islamic state and the former Nusra Front. The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura reports that the two sides "are not far" from a final declaration. However, the spokesman of the rebel Yahya al-Aridi said that they "will not sign any agreement."

"We have hope in the talks in Astana - concludes the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo - of course there remains a note of skepticism, but today the hope is stronger than in the past. Both sides are at the same table, we hope we can achieve a cease-fire. "(DS)

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