The city of Damascus is in the hands of the Assad government, the suburbs in the hands of the rebels, while in Aleppo the situation is decisively tipped in favor of the jihadist forces. This is the scene described by Maronite Archbishop Nassar Samir of Damascus, who intervened today at a press conference held at the Bonus Pastor House, a few hours after taking part in the audience of Bishops-Friends of the Focolare Movement with Pope Francis.
“March 15 is the fourth anniversary of the war and we don’t want anything other than peace,” said the Syrian prelate, referring also to the possibility of Syrian residents supporting their relatives economically, through the blocking of bank accounts in the country, while “whoever wants to leave the country can no longer find a Consulate or Embassy.”
Following yesterday’s press conference, Archbishop Samir spoke with ZENIT, stressing first of all his gratitude for the help given by the Holy See and the Pontiff.
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ZENIT: Your Excellency, in the Catholic world, be it in the West as well as the East, numerous persons hold that Pope Francis and the Vatican are not sufficiently committed to peace in Syria and Iraq and that, essentially, they are silent over the persecution of Christians. What do you think?
Archbishop Samir: Already since Benedict XVI’s pontificate, the Catholic Church has done much for peace. Five years ago, the Extraordinary Synod on the Middle East was held, and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente Cor Unum and Caritas Internationalis, to help refugees of Syria and Iraq. The topic of our congress at Castelgandolfo is Eucharist, Mystery of Communion. In fact, this morning the Pope spoke of this communion and peace. What the Churches in Syria are committed to do is to create this communion and set the basis for peace. Italy is also doing much for our country: all archaeological excavations in Syria are in the hands of research groups of Italian Universities.
ZENIT: Do you think that the strategy of terror that ISIS is sowing could, in the long run, could have a “boomerang effect” and that the population could rebel?
Archbishop Samir: For the time being people limit themselves to fleeing and they do not have the possibility of posing much resistance. Middle Eastern Christians are a peaceful people, opposed to war and any type of violence. ISIS is still far from Damascus, therefore I don’t have direct knowledge of the situation. However, in general, people don’t want to fight the terrorists; rather, they want to avoid violence. Some have chosen to resist and have taken up arms, others have preferred to leave and escape. They await the protection of the United Nations and the world powers, which, however, has yet to arrive.
ZENIT: In such an apocalyptic scenario, how is it possible for Christians not to let themselves be overwhelmed by fear?
Archbishop Samir: Medicines, doctors, water, electricity are lacking and, for over four years, there is no possibility of work, of earning and the value of the local money has collapsed. The wealthier Christians have left, the rest live with very few means. Fortunately, there is some solidarity that arrives and the Church is helping families to survive: it’s all we can do!