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FEATURE: 'Do Not Forget Syria,' Cardinal Zenari to ZENIT Renews Appeal

As Pope Francis Expresses to Assad His ‘Profound Concern,’ Apostolic Nuncio to Syria Describes ‘An Enormous Test of Faith’ & Signs of Hope

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Do not forget Syria. For a cyclone is still coming… But also, do not forget or take for granted the Good Samaritans, all the Veronicas who wiped the tears…
This is the appeal of Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, to ZENIT. He spoke to us at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, at the event entitled: “Open Hospitals in Syria: the first phase is over, the appeal is renewed,” on May 31, 2019, at Palazzo Borromeo.
Pope’s Continued ‘Profound Concern’ for Humanitarian Crisis
On July 22, 2019, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, accompanied by Cardinal Zenari, met with President of Syria, Bashar Hafez Al-Assad.
Pope Francis had written a letter, which the Vatican cardinal delivered in Damascus to the president, expressing his “profound concern” for the humanitarian crisis in the nation, with particular reference to “the dramatic conditions of the civilian population in Idlib.”
The Pope wrote the letter, Cardinal Pietro Parolin explained in an interview with Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican’s Editorial Director, “to renew his appeal for the protection of civilian lives and the preservation of the main infrastructures, such as schools, hospitals, and health facilities.”
“What is happening is intolerable and inhuman,” Cardinal Parolin added, noting: “The Holy Father asks the President to do everything possible to put an end to this humanitarian catastrophe, in order to protect the defenseless population, especially those who are most vulnerable, in respect for international humanitarian law.” Pope Francis has been making appeals to the international community to help “beleaguered and beloved Syria” for years, also spearheading initiatives to raise awareness, such as fasting for Syria.
‘Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time’
The war that began in Syria in March 2011 has caused what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”
According to 2016 data, the UN agency estimated that the humanitarian emergency has affected 13.5 million Syrians, including 6 million children. The majority, almost 9 million people, live in food insecurity, without access to basic supplies.
Open Hospitals Campaign
The Embassy event, where Zenit’s Senior Vatican Correspondent recently spoke with the Apostolic Nuncio, began with institutional greetings from Ambassador Pietro Sebastiani, and its speakers included: Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus; Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference; Ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg-Lotharingiai; Giovanni Raimondi, President of the Gemelli Foundation; Emmanuele FM Emanuele, President of the International Third Pillar Foundation; Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary-General of the AVSI Foundation. Maria Gianniti, correspondent of TG1 – foreign editorial staff, moderated.
The health crisis in the country inspired the Open Hospitals Campaign. The campaign was launched by AVSI along with Cor Unum and the Gemelli Foundation, at the end of 2016, with the objective of developing the activities of three Syrian non-profit hospitals.
The AVSI Foundation, according to its website, is one of 16 international organizations present in Syria, working on several fronts to support the Syrian people. In Damascus, supporting activities for women and children, and in Aleppo, in support of Custodia Terra Sancta’s work.
“This work was necessary in the face of an unprecedented health crisis: nearly 11.5 million people, 40 percent of which are children, do not receive adequate medical care,” the foundation website stated, pointing out that: “In Aleppo, more than 2 million people do not have access to hospitals, in Damascus, more than a million. The health system cannot cope with the demand for care and families cannot pay their medical bills.”
Another Cyclone to Come
The Cardinal speaking to ZENIT and journalists acknowledged that in other conflicts, in other nations or regions, often they have the attention of the media for some time, and then it is lost. “This does much harm — to be forgotten,” he said.
Noting that Syria has entered the ninth year of war, he lamented that the media’s attention has dwindled over time. However, he underscored, the cyclone must be anticipated.
“And I believe,” he pointed out, “that yet another cyclone is arriving in Syria. And it would be necessary to alert the International Community about what is being prepared.”
“I believe that, unfortunately, we will witness again displacements of people. From the beginning of March to mid-May 300,000 refugees of the province of Idlib . . .  and then the dead, wounded, destruction…”
In all of Syria–because tens and tens if not hundreds of hospitals were destroyed or put out of use–, it is first of all therefore, “before the reconstruction of buildings and bridges” “necessary to reconstruct the human person, their body,” and in doing so, “cure the physical wounds  and together with those, cure the moral wounds.”
Beautiful Gratitude of Christians & Non-Christians Alike
The “Open Hospitals” project is a project open to sick, poor people of whatever ethnic or religious group. Given this, he said, there are two objectives: to cure the physical wounds and improve inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations.
“Here,” he praised, “there are some very beautiful examples. The women religious who serve in these three hospitals talk to me of very beautiful examples of gratitude on the part of non-Christian people.
“I always think of poor Syria — when will she come out of this cyclone in the Middle East? A terrible cyclone is raging. “Suffice it to think of the problems of the Israeli-Palestinian question, of the disagreements between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the international powers still present. It is truly a hurricane and Syria is precisely in the eye of this cyclone.”
Since so many countries make war by proxy in Syria, it’s difficult to say that Syria might be able to come out of this situation tomorrow, he said, “when there is a cyclone that rages in the whole of the Middle East.”
Appeal to ZENIT & Gratitude to Good Samaritans, Veronicas, Simons
He spoke to ZENIT about this and how, admittedly, the events in the nation have tested the faith of many, and the only signs of hope truly “are those Good Samaritans” who have helped along the way.
The Cardinal re-launched his appeal for the international community: “Don’t forget Syria! Don’t forget Syria!”
Signs of Hope, on Long Way of Calvary
He admitted that the indescribable suffering, especially when you see with your own eyes death and suffering of children and mothers, is “an enormous test of faith.”
However, he still said we must not forget those signs of hope.
“There are many Good Samaritans, many Good Samaritans, found in Syria on this long way of Calvary; many good people who lost their lives,” he said. “These are signs that make one hope.
“The many Veronicas who wipe the face of these poor people, many volunteers, many Cyrenians; what they do and have done, should be highlighted.”
Small Seeds in the Desert, Enormous Test of Faith
Moreover, he told ZENIT, “solidarity, aid, is not lacking, but the needs are enormous. There are many seeds of solidarity that aren’t seen, small seeds in the desert, which one day will grow, and Syria will become green again.”
When ZENIT asked about how prayer helps him persevere through all he has witnessed, he reflected: “I have seen so much suffering, so many civil wars, sufferings of children, of mothers, I am engaged in a work of reflection on all this suffering that I have seen, twenty years of suffering, and the Lord gives me life; years will help me to rethink, understand to try to understand.
“Suffering is a test, the suffering of children, of the innocent, it’s an enormous test for faith.”

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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