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ICC Note:

The Pope’s ambassador in Syria has regularly observed the suffering of Christians in Syria, noting that they are the most vulnerable demographic within the conflict. Nearly half of the Christian population has chosen to leave the country. Those who remain must navigate the difficult waters of a conflict with multiple armed groups and jihadist groups such as ISIS. Before the war, many Syrian Christians remember how they could practice their faith openly. Now their country is a safe haven for extremism. Five priests have been missing for over four years. No one knows which extremist group took them or what their fate is. What the end result will be no one knows, but Syrian Christians know that their future carries more risks than ever before.

 

10/19/2017 Syria (Crux Now) – Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, the pope’s ambassador in Syria, avoids interviews: “Because of the work I do,” he says, and not without his reasons. Syria is in the midst of a civil war that began seven years ago, a conflict that’s been described as the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II.

Technically the “Apostolic Nuncio,” he’s one of the few ambassadors left in a country in which the statistics of violence are appalling. The ongoing war in Syria has produced at least 400,000 dead, 5 million refugees, 6.3 million internally displaced people and untold numbers injured.

I reached out to Zenari in July, and finally had the opportunity to speak to him on September 22. The one-hour conversation took place in the Casa Santa Marta, the hotel within the Vatican grounds where Pope Francis resides. Zenari offered an analysis of the complex situation in Syria, including how Christians live and what the Church has done.

“If we talk about suffering, everyone is in the same boat. The suffering is transversal,” he said. “But Christians are the weakest link.”

Zenari arrived in Syria more than eight years ago to be papal representative. But he has been a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps for the past 37 years, including 18 years as nuncio to Ivory Coast and then Sri Lanka.

Just over a year ago, Francis surprised him by making him a cardinal: “A cardinal must be ready to give his life for the faith,” Zenari said. “Soon I thought that the cardinal’s red [vestment] will honor the blood of so many innocent children who have died in Syria.”

You were in Germany for the fall of the Berlin Wall, and then in Sri Lanka and in Ivory Coast during their respective civil wars. How did these experiences prepare you for what you’re living today in Syria?

Zenari: I always joke that I am a nuncio veteran of war, because I have been in countries in civil war for 18 years. But in other places, the conflict was limited. In Syria, from the beginning, I had the perception that the conflagration would extend to neighboring countries.

It ended up going very far, with the terrorist attacks in France, Germany, England … In the first two years, I was able to visit Syria. It is a beautiful country, a haven for archaeologists, with civilizations that go back 5,000 years before Christ.

The history of the Church is there, too, is it not?

Why is it that 1.6 billion people call themselves “Christians”? We could be called “Jesuits” or “Nazarethans” because of “Jesus,” but a few years after Jesus ascended to heaven according to the Acts of the Apostles (11,26) the disciples of the Lord were first called “Christians” in Antioch of Syria. There they gave us that name. Antioch, under the French protectorate, passed to Turkey. But it was in Syria.

And the Apostle St. Paul was in Syria too, right?

We all remember the “Way of Damascus,” where this young Saul, a fundamentalist, had the resplendent vision of the Lord. He became the apostle of the people at the gates of Damascus. And when the Lord says to Ananias, go to the street called “Straight,” an unbending road still preserved in Damascus. St. Paul walked there. Until the arrival of Islam in the year 636, Syria was all Christian. It gave six popes to the Church and four emperors.

And Jesus was born in Bethlehem on Christmas night, when the governor of Syria was Quirinus. Politically, Jesus was born in the Roman province of Syria. We cannot forget that.

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