Pope cancels delegation to Syria, focuses on aid work

Cardinal Robert Sarah President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum on April 13 2012 2 CNA500x315 Vatican Catholic News 4 13 12 Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum on April 13, 2012. | Alan Holdren-CNA.

A delegation of bishops from the recent synod on the New Evangelization will not go to Syria as violence continues to ravage the country, Pope Benedict XVI announced Nov. 7.

"As a sign of my own solidarity and that of the whole Church for the Syrian people, as well as our spiritual closeness to the Christian communities in that country, I had hoped to send" a delegation, the Pope said.

The delegation would have consisted of seven prelates, including New York's Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.

The cancelation was due to an unspecified "variety of circumstances and developments," explained the Pope, who lamented "the tragic situation of violence in Syria."

He said he is continuously praying for those in Syria and appealed to all the parties in the conflict to work for the good of Syria and find a political solution because "one day it may be too late."

In lieu of the delegation, Pope Benedict has sent Cardinal Robert Sarah as his emissary to Lebanon. Cardinal Sarah is in charge of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" for Promoting Human and Christian Development, which provides humanitarian relief in the Pope's name.

Cardinal Sarah will be in Lebanon Nov. 7-10, where he will deliver $1 million in aid from the Pope for victims of the violence. His mission includes meeting with leaders of the different Churches present in Syria, as well chairing a meeting of Catholic charitable agencies in order to coordinate their efforts to aid Syrians.

Michael LaCivita, the communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association,  told CNA Nov. 7 that the "idea of coordinating efforts is a very good idea because there's strength in doing that as opposed to having competing efforts."

The association is an agency of the Holy See that is running relief efforts on the ground in Syria. It is working directly with the different Churches in that multi-confessional country, the Catholic Latin and Melkite Rites as well as the Syrian Orthodox.

"It's local Churches that help us determine what needs are, and so we work to empower them to do so," LaCivita said.

He welcomes the Pope's decision to focus on coordinating relief efforts from outside Syria rather than sending a high-profile delegation into the embattled country to spread good will and gifts.

"Our concern was that the trip could be easily manipulated by either side, and we don't want the Church, the Holy See in particular, being compromised, though they had the very best intentions," LaCivita remarked.

If they were staying in Damascus, they would run the risk of being manipulated by the government of Bashar al-Asad, he said. And if they were going outside Damascus to rebel-controlled regions, "who would they be meeting with and could their security even be guaranteed?"

One member of the would-be delegation would have stuck out like a big red thumb for any would-be terrorist: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the board of the welfare association.

"He would have been a significant target," LaCivita said of the Archbishop of New York.

An estimated 30,000 people have died in Syria's 18-month-old uprising. A variety of rebel groups, including radical Muslims allied with al Qaeda, are trying to topple the secular government of President Bashar al-Asad, which has been historically protective of the country's Christian minority.

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