06/20/2013, 00.00
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Witnessing to the love of Christ in Syria, plagued by hatred and war

by Simone Cantarini
In a village north of Aleppo Fr. Hanna, a Franciscan, rings the bells every day to show the public that he is there for them. Nuns, priests and volunteers are now a point of reference and love for Christians and Muslims torn apart by a war imported from outside. Archbishop Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus: "The real victory is not winning the war, but peace."

Rome (AsiaNews) - "In a small village north of Aleppo conquered by the rebels Fr. Hanna, a Franciscan priest, rings the bell each day at the small local church. The chimes mark the hours of the day and are a sign of hope for the whole population, Christian and Muslim, knowing that in the small chapel there is someone ready to listen, to alleviate their suffering, regardless of faction, and religious beliefs. In Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and other cities, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd provide continuous assistance to the displaced, bringing clean clothes, food and words of comfort. "

This is what Msgr. Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus tells AsiaNews.  He is currently in Rome for the 86th Assembly of the ROACO (Reunion of Works to Aid the Oriental Churches) on "The situation of Christians and churches in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the Holy Land," which concludes today with a meeting with Pope Francis.

"Fr. Hanna - says the bishop - like other priests around the country, has become a reference point for the community. People respect and appreciate him for his simple presence, because he decided to stay, at a time when everyone is trying to escape. During these months, the Islamist insurgents have repeatedly ordered the removal of the bells, because they are not in line with the Sharia law imposed by force. With the help of the population, mostly Muslim, the young Franciscan however, resisted, he was not frightened and continues to bring aid, food to the poor, visiting the sick and elderly and guide young people in search of odd jobs to sustain their families. "

The Nuncio believes that the Church has a great responsibility in this country. Syria has been used by foreign nations as a battlefield for opposing ideologies: Wahhabi Islam against Shiite Islam, democracy against totalitarianism, countries of the Western bloc against Russia. "Christians, Orthodox and Catholics, they still have an extensive network of contacts, formed by parishes, service centers, convents, soup kitchens. When compared with the cost of a normal NGO its costs are minimal." "We - he adds - are here to witness to the Gospel. Clergy are laying down their lives life for Christ and at this time the features of his face are those of the Syrian people who are suffering. Lay people who work with us are mostly volunteers, who share our mission. "

The situation described and experienced by Msgr. Zenari is dramatic: "The war in Syria now affects the entire population, by the end of it the displaced people could reach a record 10 million, almost half the population. Even in Damascus, the capital, people no longer have anything . The houses are now empty, in order to survive they are selling furniture, clothes, their goods, those who have some jewels or precious object sell them on the black market, to buy fuel, oil, dried meat, powdered milk for children. We need a cease- fire, even a few hours, to alleviate the suffering of these families, but neither the government nor the rebels allow it. "

Archbishop Zenari invites all Catholics, especially Westerners, to find out about the "real situation in Syria." Unfortunately it is not the one reported in newspapers and television. "Nobody is talking about the Syrian people - says the prelate - no one states that the population is first victim of what passes over their heads: bombs, sanctions, air strikes, terrorist attacks, brutal murders, which will increase if we continue to send weapons to the army and rebels". "The real victory - he concludes - is not winning the war, but peace. Only with peace can Syria begin to rebuild."


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