“After almost 8 years of conflict in Syria, the consequences are indescribable, above all for the little children. Through our campaign we want to raise awareness of the critical conditions into which the country has been plunged and pray for peace and reconciliation.” The words are those of Philipp Ozores, the Secretary General of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, who yesterday presented the charity’s campaign Candles for Peace in Syria at the Polish embassy to the Holy See in Rome, an awareness raising campaign formally launched by Pope Francis the day before. In the days leading up to the event over 50,000 children of different religions, from a number of different Syrian cities, had painted images and symbols of peace on the side of their candles. ACN is calling on people of goodwill around the world to respond to this heartfelt cry for peace from the children of Syria, by lighting a candle, as Pope Francis did after the Angelus blessing in Rome on Sunday.
The presentation was attended by many of the foreign ambassadors accredited with the Holy See. “We need the support of national governments”, Mr Ozores told them, adding, “For there to be peace in Syria we need concrete actions.”
“Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are the Jerusalem of today”, stated the Polish ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Janusz Kotański, before handing the word to the invited guests from Syria with first-hand experience of the situation. Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, described the civil war in Syria as a “slaughter of the innocents” in which many children had been “killed by bombs, drowned in the ocean, suffocated by poison gas, mutilated, traumatised, subjected to sexual abuse, forcibly enlisted in the Army or else – as has happened to many young Syrian girls – forced to “marry” total strangers at an extremely tender age”.
There was profound bitterness in the words of Syriac-Catholic Archbishop Antoine Denys Chahda of Aleppo: “Our churches, mosques, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, as have our lives also”, he declared, before making his own appeal to the diplomats present: “Please convey our message to your governments. We Syrians only ask for justice, peace and love.”
Sister Fida Chaya, a Syrian religious of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne- Antide Thouret (the Thouret Sisters) described the conflict through the eyes of the children at the school run by her congregation in Damascus, going on to underline the importance of supporting the ACN campaign. “Your gestures of support make us realise that you are close to us, despite the distance”, she said. “And we are also grateful to you for all your prayers.”
Sister Annie Demerjian, a Syrian religious of the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, displayed some powerful images of the suffering caused by the war, a suffering that she herself witnessed in Aleppo along with its people. “It is difficult to imagine how much the Syrian children had to endure. Children robbed of their childhood and of the joy which should characterise their youthful years”, she explained.
“During these years the faces of the Syrian children have cried out for help. By lighting these candles we can give them hope”, added Father Andrzej Halemba, the head ACN’s project section for the Middle East. He then opened up a live video linkup with a group of children in a primary school in Aleppo, during which both the children in Syria and the ambassadors and other guests in Rome, following the example of Pope Francis, lit up candles made in Damascus. After this Cardinal Zenari lit the first digital candle in ACN’s online campaign “Light a candle for peace”.
“A splendid bridge of light has been established” between Rome and Aleppo, said Alfredo Mantovano, the president of the Italian national office of ACN. Quoting the words of the Polish poet Stanislaw Wyspianski, he emphasised the need for “those many who have fallen asleep in the Western world to wake up and redouble their efforts for our suffering brethren, whose testimonies we have heard today, filling us with gratitude.”
For further information about the Christmas Campaign for Syria: https://syria.pontifical.acninternational.org/