Vatican nuncio to Damascus on Syria’s descent into hell

Vatican nuncio to Damascus on Syria’s descent into hell
by Paul Dakiki
Archbishop Mario Zenari comments on the Daraya massacre in to AsiaNews, with rebels and government trading accusations of responsibility. The Melkite bishop of Aleppo flees to Lebanon. Many Christians in Syria saved because of their religion. The conflict in Syria is not an “Arab Spring”, but far more complex, with “tragic and unimaginable” consequences.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – Each Syrian dawn brings with it a fresh list of deaths (real or imagined) and proclamations of victories (real or imagined). Yesterday the rebels celebrated their downing of a military helicopter in the district of Jobar in Damascus.

The government, for its part, claims to have brought Daraya under control. The rebels accuse the regular troops of having massacred at least 320 people, including women and children. Video footage – unverified – shows bloodied and burned bodies. The government accuses the terrorists of having carries out the massacre. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an independent inquiry into the slaughter. And as the Free Syrian Army seeks more support from the West, Assad continues to proclaim war against a “foreign conspiracy” which aims to change the balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, mounting evidence confirms the presence of al Qaeda fighters in Syria, who have carried out “66 operations”, half of them in Damascus alone, in the period since June.

In this distressing situation, comes the news that the offices of the Greek-catholic bishop in Aleppo, Msgr. Jean-Clement Jeanbart, were looted. The bishop has fled to Lebanon. On all this, AsiaNews asked the opinion of Msgr. Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus.

Your Excellency, what can you tell us of the reports of killings and massacres?

In Syria things are bad, very bad. I used to think of this situation as a tunnel, at the end of which we would eventually see some light. But now I say that Syria is descending into hell and when you go that way, all hope of light can be lost. Of course, history is always in the hands of God and anything can happen and this descent can be slowed down.

My invitation to the Christian communities in Syria and abroad is this: the weapons are causing destruction and casualties. We must use the weapon of prayer. Just yesterday I spoke to a pastor who lives in Aleppo, alongside his faithful. And he said: I suggested to my faithful not to lose time in the evening watching television, but to meet and say the rosary for Syria.

The UN Security Council is divided. Yesterday France criticized Russia and China for their defense of Assad … The international community seems to be just standing by and watching, while fundamentalists gain ground and the Arab countries of the South make their moves…

The history of this conflict is full of gaffes and contradictions, made both by Syria and the international community. Even the ambassadors here in Damascus are beginning to realize that the analysis made before have all gone up in smoke: it is difficult to define the conflict, and all hypotheses are null and void.

In the beginning, the international community viewed the riots in Syria as another chapter in the Arab Spring, as something akin to what happened in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. Instead Syria is something unique and they are playing with fire, in a complex conflict, with many delicate components. And there is the fear that the consequences will become even more tragic and unimaginable.

Excellence, are Christians seen as a target in this conflict? Many people wonder about the fate of Christians, but it is difficult to distinguish their fate from the collective fate of all Syrians.

We must not exploit easy sympathies and feelings, or talk about religious conflicts. The Christian community here suffers the same as everyone else. Indeed, I must say that in some cases, here and there, you’ll find that some violence – too easily branded as “confessional” – has its roots in family hatreds, past injustices, etc. ….

What about the thousands and thousands of cases in which precisely those who are Christian are saved? I tell people the facts and Christians stopped at checkpoints, by rebels or soldiers, are allowed to pass because they show their identity card on which their religion is registered. And maybe, in this same place these rebels or soldiers have killed other groups. The impression is that the media in the West are exploiting clichés. Caution should be exercised. What is important is that Christians work in Syria, along with other denominations, through our identity, by being committed to non-violence, human rights. The future will be what God wants, but it depends on us to build it.

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