By Deborah Castellano Lubov

It’s necessary to have the Christian presence in these lands continue…

“I make an appeal to the International Community, so that every effort is made to foster this return of refugees forced to leave these countries but who wish to come back, “guaranteeing conditions of safety and the necessary economic conditions…”

This was at the heart of Pope Francis’ videomessage to participants in the virtual meeting on the Syrian and Iraqi Humanitarian Crisis, promoted by the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development.

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The meeting is being attended by some 50 Catholic charity organizations, representatives of the local Episcopates and of Ecclesiastical Institutions and Religious Congregations, which operate in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries including Lebanon and Jordan, and with their Apostolic Nunzios. ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent traveled to Jordan where she shared the plight of refugees, from Iraq and Syria.

“My thought,” the Holy Father expressed, “goes especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to flee from the horrors of war, in search of better conditions of life for themselves and for their dear ones.”

He remembered in a special way “the Christians constrained to abandon” the places where they were born and grew up, where their faith was developed and enriched.

“It’s necessary to have the Christian presence in these lands continue to be what it has always been: a sign of peace, of progress, of development and of reconciliation between persons and peoples.”

In second place, Francis said his thought goes to the refugees who wish to return to their countries.

“I make an appeal to the International Community, so that every effort is made to foster this return, guaranteeing conditions of safety and the necessary economic conditions so that this can come about. Every gesture, every effort in this sense is precious.”

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Among those giving interventions have been Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher; the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari; representatives of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Dignity; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi.

The Christian population in Iraq, once about 1.5 million, now numbers several hundred thousand.

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The war that began in Syria in March 2011 has caused what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.” According to 2016 data, the UN agency estimated that the humanitarian emergency has affected 13.5 million Syrians, including 6 million children. The majority, almost 9 million people, live in food insecurity, without access to basic supplies.

The Holy Father also addressed Catholic agencies that are involved in humanitarian aid, saying “a thought of encouragement goes to all of you, who, following the example of the Good Samaritan, do your utmost without reservations to welcome, care and accompany the immigrants and the displaced in these lands, without distinctions of creed or membership.”

“As I’ve been able to say so many times, the Church isn’t an NGO,” he said, noting: “Our charitable action must be inspired by and in the Gospel.”

Encouraging their efforts, the Pope scheduled to travel to Iraq March 5-8, 2021, concluded, imparting his Apostolic Blessing.

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Here is a translation of the text of the videomessage:

* * *

The Holy Father’s Video-Message

Dear Friends,

It is with joy that I address this affectionate greeting to you during this meeting, organized by the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, together with other entities of the Holy See, to discuss and reflect on the very grave problems that still today afflict the beloved populations of Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries.

Every effort, small or great, made to foster the peace process is like putting a brick in the construction of a just society, which opens to hospitality, and where all can find a place to dwell in peace. My thought goes especially to the people who have had to leave their homes to flee from the horrors of war, in search of better conditions of life for themselves and for their dear ones. In particular, I remember the Christians constrained to abandon the places where they were born and grew up, where their faith was developed and enriched. It’s necessary to have the Christian presence in these lands continue to be what it has always been: a sign of peace, of progress, of development and of reconciliation between persons and peoples.

In the second place, my thought goes to the refugees who wish to return to their countries. I make an appeal to the International Community, so that every effort is made to foster this return, guaranteeing conditions of safety and the necessary economic conditions so that this can come about. Every gesture, every effort in this sense is precious.

One last reflection on the work of the Catholic agencies that are involved in humanitarian aid: a thought of encouragement goes to all of you, who, following the example of the Good Samaritan, do your utmost without reservations to welcome, care and accompany the immigrants and the displaced in these lands, without distinctions of creed or membership. As I’ve been able to say so many times, the Church isn’t an NGO. Our charitable action must be inspired by and in the Gospel. This aid must be a tangible sign of charity of a local Church that helps another Church that is suffering, through these wonderful means that are the Catholic agencies of humanitarian aid and development. A Church that helps another Church!

To end, I want you to know that when you find yourselves working in these places, you aren’t alone! The whole Church makes herself one with you, to go out to meet the wounded man set upon by brigands along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. My blessing, which I gladly impart to you today, will always accompany your work, so that this meeting may bear in your countries abundant fruits of prosperity, of development and of peace, for a new life. Thank you!

[Original Text: Italian]
[Vatican-provided text]

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