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Iraq visit encourages Syrians to welcome pope

Cardinal Mario Zenari says peace will not come to Syria without reconstruction and economic recovery

Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

Published: March 23, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 24, 2021 06:37 AM GMT

Iraq visit encourages Syrians to welcome pope

Pope Francis, accompanied by autonomous Kurdistan region president Nechirvan Barzani (right), greets people dressed in traditional outfits on his arrival at Arbil airport on March 7. (Photo: AFP)

The people of Syria were touched and encouraged by Pope Francis' recent visit to Iraq, said Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio to Syria.

During a virtual news conference March 23, Cardinal Zenari said many Syrians, Christian and non-Christian alike, followed televised coverage of the Iraqi visit and some even crossed the border to Iraq to be there for the occasion, including "two Syrian bishops, some priests and some young people."

In the days after the visit, "I received some visits from diplomats from all around the world, also some non-Christian diplomats, and they praised" the pope's visit to Iraq, he said.

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"Some of them asked when is the pope coming to Syria," Cardinal Zenari said. "I must assure you that Syria is far from being forgotten by Pope Francis. Syria remains in his heart."

The Italian cardinal added that "as soon as the circumstances allow, certainly the pope will visit Syria."

The news conference, which was hosted by Caritas Internationalis, focused on the church's humanitarian response to Syrians suffering from war for the past 10 years.

Also present at the virtual event were Melkite Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach of Homs, president of Caritas Syria; Ryad Sargi, director of Caritas Syria; and Aloysius John, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis.

In his speech, Cardinal Zenari said that after 10 years of war, "many people are losing hope in the future of their country" as peace talks and rebuilding Syria's economy and infrastructure have stalled.

"It is true that bombs and rockets have not fallen on various regions of Syria for some months," the cardinal said. "However, the terrible 'bomb' of poverty has exploded, which according to the latest figures of the United Nations, inexorably affects about 90% of the population that are living below the poverty line."

While coverage of Syria's tragic anniversary has brought renewed attention to the suffering population, Cardinal Zenari said, "the country has almost completely disappeared from the radar of the media, just as Pope Francis warned about a year ago."

The nuncio to Syria expressed his gratitude to humanitarian organizations, the international community, as well as the United Nations for their help in assuring the arrival of humanitarian aid to Syrians.

However, Cardinal Zenari warned that "peace will not come to Syria without reconstruction and without economic recovery."

"How long will Syrians have to wait?" the cardinal asked. "Time is running out. Many of them have lost hope. Urgent and radical solutions are needed. As an Italian saying goes: 'The bull must be taken by horns, not by the tail.'"

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