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Though Saddened by War, Syrian Bishop Does Not Despair

Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, is pictured in Aleppo in this 2008 file photo. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey) 

22 Mar 2013 – By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — Ministering in a time of war in his hometown, the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Syria, said: “Deep down, I’m not frightened, I’m not scared; I’m sad.”

“Syria was, is and will be a beautiful country,” he said. “Please help us.”

Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo said that, just two years ago, Syria was considered a land of plenty, a welcoming Middle Eastern country that offered shelter to refugees fleeing conflicts in neighboring countries, particularly Iraq.

“Syrians are now poor,” he said at a meeting on 21 March after celebrating a Mass for peace in Syria at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The Mass and a reception afterward were part of a meeting of Catholic charities funding aid projects in Syria through Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella group for national Catholic charities.

Bishop Audo, president of Caritas Syria, thanked the Catholic aid agencies — including the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace — for their “prayers, generosity and constant efforts to put an end to this fratricidal war.”

According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people — mostly civilians — have been killed and more than 3 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. In addition, some 1.1 million people have taken refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

In his homily, Bishop Audo said Syrian Christians want to be “instruments of forgiveness and reconciliation” in their country. They are “respected and loved because they have not taken sides, they do not seek power, they don’t have vengeance in their hearts.”

“Gazing on the disfigured face of the crucified Christ” on the faces of the aged, the children and the many young people who have been killed, he said, Christians have placed themselves at the service of all, without regard for religious belonging.

Speaking at the reception afterward, Bishop Audo repeatedly referred to the war as a “confessional conflict” between the minority Alawite Shiites and the country’s Sunni Muslim majority.

He insisted Christians have not been targeted as Christians, except in some kidnapping cases, because Christians are thought to have more money.

Bishop Audo said many of his fellow Syrians are saying the fighting will go on and on, “but I harbor trust in Syria.”

“I await a future for Syria with greater democracy and the rediscovery of the art of living together peacefully” with people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds, he said.

In the meantime, Syrians, “who are all in the same boat, so to speak,” are helping each other.

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Tags: Syria Lebanon Syrian Civil War War Chaldean Church