Damascus, Syria, Apr 3, 2018 / 13:00 pm
When Pope Saint John Paul II visited Syria in 2001, he called on Christians to remember Syria's "magnificent contribution" to the history of Christianity. As the country reels from seven years of civil war, Christian communities in Damascus continue to struggle to protect that heritage.
"We remember that it was in fact in Syria that the Church of Christ discovered her truly catholic character and took on her universal mission. The Apostles Peter and Paul, each according to the grace received, worked here to gather together the one family of Christ, welcoming believers coming from different cultures and nations," said Pope John Paul II in Damascus on May 6, 2001.
Within the walls of the Damascus' Old City is the tomb of St. John the Baptist, the house where St. Ananias took in a blinded Saul, and the Gate of St. Thomas, known as Bab Touma, through which the apostle traveled on his way to evangelize India.
For John Paul II, it was primarily a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul that brought him to Damascus. The pontiff spent three days in Syria in 2001 as a part of a six-day journey following Saint Paul's evangelizing missions in the Mediterranean, including stops in Greece and Malta.