Syria lost in ‘oblivion’ on 11th anniversary of war, says cardinal

shutterstock 327353651 The Syrian flag. | By ART production via Shutterstock.

On the 11th anniversary of the start of the civil war in Syria, the papal nuncio lamented the country’s loss of hope for the future.

“The Syrian catastrophe is still the most serious man-made humanitarian disaster since the end of the Second World War,” Cardinal Mario Zenari said in an interview with Vatican News on March 15.

Since the war started on March 15, 2011, there have been an estimated half a million casualties. The conflict has also created 6.6 million refugees, and 6.7 million internally displaced persons, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

“It is a sad anniversary, first of all, because the war is not over yet and also because for a couple of years now Syria seems to have disappeared from the media radar,” Zenari said. “First the Lebanese crisis, then COVID-19, and now the war in Ukraine have taken its place.”

Syria, he said, has “fallen into oblivion.”

The 76-year-old Italian cardinal has been apostolic nuncio to Syria since December 2008.

He said: “Unfortunately, hope has gone from the hearts of many people and in particular from the hearts of young people, who do not see a future in their country and seek to emigrate. And a nation without young people, moreover qualified, is a nation without a future.”

Cardinal Mario Zenari takes possession of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci in Rome, Italy on March 25, 2017. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Cardinal Mario Zenari takes possession of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci in Rome, Italy on March 25, 2017. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Eleven years later, “there are still no signs of reconstruction or economic start-up,” he said. “What’s more, sanctions are weighing on all of this. The peace process, according to U.N. Resolution 2254, is stalled. Only poverty is advancing by leaps and bounds. People are now talking about economic warfare.”

Food security is also a huge problem, he said, noting a shortage of bread, flour, and other necessities.

“One could say that people, whatever religious denomination they belong to, have been living an uninterrupted Lent and fasting for 11 years,” the cardinal commented.

He recalled the vast number of Christians who have left Syria during the war.

“It is an irremediable wound for these Oriental Churches sui iuris, but it is also a serious damage for Syrian society itself,” he said.

“Christians, who have been present in the Middle East for 2,000 years, have made a notable contribution to the development of their country, especially in the fields of education and health, with very efficient and esteemed schools and hospitals,” Zenari continued.

“The presence of Christians could be compared, for Syrian society itself, to an open window on the world. Christians are generally open-minded and tolerant. With every Christian family that emigrates, the window gradually closes.”

The cardinal also echoed Pope Francis’ appeal for an end to the violence in Ukraine.

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“It is sad to see repeated in Ukraine the same harrowing images of pain seen in Syria: destroyed neighborhoods, deaths, millions of refugees, use of unconventional weapons such as cluster bombs, bombing of hospitals and schools. Seeing the exact same descent into hell that was seen in Syria.”

“Surely Syria, mutatis mutandis, wants to sternly admonish others not to fall into the same place of torment into which she herself has fallen,” he said.

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