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Syrian Bishop Urges Pope Francis to Raise Arms Supply Issue in Turkey

28 Nov 2014 – By Sarah MacDonald

DUBLIN (CNS) — The president of Caritas in Syria has appealed to Pope Francis to use his 28-30 November trip to Turkey to raise the issue of the ongoing supply of arms being sent across the Turkish border to rebel factions in northern Syria.

Speaking to Catholic News Service in Dublin in late November, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo warned that there would never be a solution to the Syrian conflict through military force, as almost four years of violence has shown.

Almost 200,000 people are estimated to have died so far in the Syrian conflict. According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, 9.3 million people in Syria need assistance. There are 6.5 million internally displaced Syrians and a further 2.5 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

“Help us realize peace in Syria. Everybody is losing in this war, but everybody will win with peace and reconciliation. Help us find again the beauty of coexistence,” the bishop pleaded.

The 68-year-old prelate was born and continues to live in Aleppo, which is located just 25 miles from the Turkish border.

The bishop, like many in Syria, believes the U.S., Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran must stop selling arms to the various factions involved in the conflict.

He warned that failure to promote peace and reconciliation could result in the conflict ending on the doorstep of the countries of the West.

Aleppo was once a thriving metropolis and one of the most religiously diverse centers in the region. However, extensive bombing and brutal street-to-street fighting between the various rebels groups and government forces of the Assad regime have left it a shell of its former self.

“With the war we have lost everything. Death has become something normal — there is no value on human life,” Bishop Audo explained. The city has witnessed more than 3,000 deaths since January.

“Poverty is everywhere, there is no electricity, no water and no work. Even the middle class is poor in Aleppo. Doctors and engineers come to me to ask for a basket of food. Now even seeing an apple is something very special,” Bishop Audo said.

Aleppo’s pre conflict Christian population was 150,000 across 11 communities.

“We were six Catholic bishops, three Orthodox bishops, and two Protestant denominations — Arabic and Armenian. We all had our areas. But all this is destroyed now. More than half of the Christian population has left Aleppo.”

“It is especially sad for us to see the young people leaving Syria and going to Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. They cannot stay with the insecurity, the economic crisis and no work. Everybody has become poor. If we don’t have peace all the Christians will leave. This is the challenge,” he warned.

Asked if the roots of the conflict are religious, Bishop Audo told CNS, “a lot of terrorists are using the name of religion.” He cited the influence of Saudi Arabia and Sunni petro dollars on the one hand and Iranian Shiites on the other who are contesting the leadership of the Arab and Muslim world.

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Tags: Syria War Turkey Chaldean Church Aleppo