FEATURE: Cardinal Zenari: Urgent, Radical Solutions Needed for Syria

Speaking at Caritas Internationalis' 'Church and Caritas: 10 years of humanitarian response in Syria'

FEATURE: Cardinal Zenari: Urgent, Radical Solutions Needed for Syria
Cardinal Zenari - Copyright: Vatican Media

Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, says urgent and radical solutions are needed as the ‘bomb’ of poverty is exploding.

His remarks came ahead of the fifth European Union donor conference on Syria, during the conference “Church and Caritas: 10 years of humanitarian response in Syria,” organized by Caritas Internationalis, where the papal foundation shed light on the situation in Syria and urged the international community to act.

According to Caritas, 90 percent of the Syrian population has plunged into poverty as a result of ten years of war, international sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. A third of the population has fled the country and 12.4 million people do not have reliable access to food and heating.

Sixty percent of Syrian children are in urgent need of education, food and heating and 2.4 million children don’t have access to schooling. A major focus for Caritas Internationalis is investing in education for the thousands of Syrian children whose schooling has been interrupted because of the war.

The Bombs that Are Still Exploding

In his remarks, Cardinal Zenari acknowledged while it is true that bombs and rockets have not fallen on various regions of Syria for some months, “the terrible “bomb” of poverty has exploded, which, according to latest figure of the United Nations, inexorably affects about 90 percent of the population that are living below the poverty line. The highest percentage in the world!”

Ten years of war, corruption and sanctions, along with the crisis in Lebanon and the global Covid-19 pandemic, all contributed to the Syrian Pound losing much of its value against the US Dollar, the price of food significantly increasing, and people queueing to get limited bread and gasoline.

“The people call this difficult time as “economic war”, worse of that of the previous years,” he said, lamenting that aside from the attention given to Syria for this anniversary, the country has almost completely disappeared from the radars of the media.

While thanking numerous humanitarian efforts, especially Caritas Syria, the Apostolic Nuncio warned however, that the major emergency projects of the international community will not continue forever.

“I am particularly moved to see such generous solidarity. But let me say at the same time,” he admonished, “that I am also very restless. In the end, if we consider carefully, all these generous contributions are a “tap, faucet, rubinetto” of water in the desert! Very precious drops, but always a “tap, rubinetto” that risks giving less and less water over time!”

The challenges, he noted, are “enormous” and the possibilities, “very limited.”

“The major emergency projects of the International Community, mentioned earlier,” the cardinal reiterated, “cannot continue forever. Much of this aid, at this moment still urgent and necessary, is not an adequate long-term solution. Pope Francis said: “It is imperative to devise suitable and far-sighted solutions capable of enabling the beloved Syrian people, exhausted by war, to regain peace and to begin the reconstruction of the country.”

What’s Needed

“Syria needs, according to the experts, hundreds of billions of US dollars to build hospitals, schools, houses and factories and restart the economy!” he reminded.

“Without reconstruction and without economic recovery,” he warned, “peace will not come to Syria.”

“How long will Syrians have to wait?” he asked. “Time is running out. Many of them have lost hope. Urgent and radical solutions are needed.”

Cardinal Zenari recalled  Special Envoy of the United Nations for Syria, Geir Pedersen’s words: “The present political deadlock between the Parties in the conflict must be overcome with the help of “a constructive international diplomacy on Syria.”

“This dynamic has to change,” he said, “What is needed is mutual and reciprocal steps step by step, from Syrian government and opposition, and key international players…”.

“While the peace process is in in this moment in a complete deadlock, the poverty, on the contrary,” Cardinal Zenari warned, “is moving forward fast!”

Caritas’ Internationalis’ Secretary General, Aloysius John, also stressed that Caritas joins the Syrian Church in asking for “lifting unilateral sanctions, which were introduced at the beginning of the war; to increase access to services and healthcare, including COVID-19 vaccines for the suffering people of Syria; to ensure support to the NGO, in particular the faith-based organizations; a negotiated peace, avoiding continued stalemate, which only results in untold sufferings to innocent civilians.”

“Syrians, and especially Syria’s youngest generation, cannot afford the trials and the violence of this war any more. They deserve a better future,” he said.

According to a statement, Caritas has helped an average of 1 million people a year since the beginning of the war in 2011. Help has included food, education, repairing houses, psychological and health support, water and hygiene projects and, in recent years, an increasing move towards livelihood projects to help Syrians become more autonomous.

High Price Paid

Executive director of Caritas Syria, Riad Sargi, said: “Syrians have paid a high price for the war in Syria during the past ten years in terms of killing, internal displacement and refugees. Destruction did not distinguish between houses, public facilities, or medical or educational centers.”

“The sanctions and boycott of Syria, in addition to the Caesar Act,” he continued, “have negatively affected the lives of Syrian citizens, especially the most vulnerable, as these sanctions hit them at the core of their daily lives so that some of them could only eat bread and drink water. The garbage containers in the streets became a source of food for the poorest.”

“We want peace, we want dialogue,” said Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach, Melkite Archbishop of Homs, Hama and Yabroud, who also serves as president of Caritas Syria.

“We ask the government to cooperate with the opposition to restore human dignity. After 10 years of war, we ask for international cooperation. Because of the crisis in the Middle East, Syria has become forgotten,” he said.

Below is the full text of Cardinal Zenari’s remarks:

***

Intervention by Cardinal Mario Zenari-Apostolic Nuncio in Syria

Cordial greetings from Damascus, and many thanks for convening this video conference, just in this crucial moment for Syria, when, after ten years of a bloody conflict, the peace process is in a deadlock, the reconstruction and the economy recovery haven’t yet started, and many people are losing hope in the future of their Country.

It is true that bombs and rockets have not fallen on various regions of Syria for some months. However, the terrible “bomb” of poverty has exploded, which, according to latest figure of the United Nations, inexorably affects about 90% of the population that are living below the poverty line. The highest percentage in the
world! The Syrian Pound has lost much of its value against the US Dollar. The price of food has significantly increased. At the bakeries, people queue to try to get limited subsidized bread that is available. The same scene for petrol all around the Country. This is the sad result of ten years of war, corruption and sanctions,
especially some of them. The Lebanese crisis and the international Covid-19 pandemic had also a significant negative impact. The people call this difficult time as “economic war”, worse of that of the previous years.

And apart from the attention given to Syria on the occasion of this sad anniversary, the Country has almost completely disappeared from the radars of the media, just as Pope Francis warned about a year ago.

Deep gratitude deserves the international community, especially the various offices of the United Nations active in the humanitarian field, and the Security Council for opening the possibility for numerous trucks to transport aid across the Turkish border every day for approximately 11 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. Sincere gratitude goes also to the significant support ensured by the countries and institutions present at various Brussels Conferences.

In this regard we hope for the generous outcome of the coming Brussels V Conference. Sincere appreciation deserves also the considerable support given by some Governments for various humanitarian projects, ranging from food emergency relief, to support in education, health and other fields.

The work of numerous NGOs and humanitarian organizations, both in Syria and outside Syria, is also very commendable, and we should never forget the hundreds of people, some of them volunteers, who lost their lives helping Syrians.

A particular gratitude deserve the local Churches for their endeavour in the humanitarian assistance. In particular, Caritas Syria, whose task, as I stressed from the beginning of the conflict, should be that of the backbone of the humanitarian mission of the Catholic Church. Thanks to the competent assistance of Caritas
Internationalis, finally it succeeded in overcoming some difficult problems. Our sincere thank goes to all the Caritas Partners, and to the numerous and generous Christian Humanitarian Institutions.

The challenges are enormous and the possibilities are very limited. Let me stress once again the necessity of a minimum of coordination among all the Christian Institutions, according also to the Motu Proprio “Intima Ecclesia Natura” (11 November 2012) and “Deus Caritas est” n. 20, of Pope Benedict XVI.

I am particularly moved to see such generous solidarity. But let me say at the same time that I am also very restless. In the end, if we consider carefully, all these generous contributions are a “tap, faucet, rubinetto” of water in the desert! Very precious drops, but always a “tap, rubinetto” that risks giving less and less water over time!

Also, the major emergency projects of the International Community, mentioned earlier, cannot continue forever. Much of this aid, at this moment still urgent and necessary, is not an adequate long-term solution. Pope Francis said: “It is imperative to devise suitable and far-sighted solutions capable of enabling the
beloved Syrian people, exhausted by war, to regain peace and to begin the reconstruction of the country” (9 January 2020). Syria needs, according to the experts, hundreds of billions of US$ to build hospitals, schools, houses and factories and restart the economy!

[[[“Development is the new name for peace”, wrote Pope St. Paul VI in the Encyclical Letter “Populorum Progressio” (1967). And Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” speaks of the necessity of “finding a way to ensure the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress” (“Fratelli
Tutti” n. 126). And in another passage of the same document, n. 127, he writes: “a real and lasting peace will only be possible on the basis of global ethic of solidarity and cooperation”. “The story of the Good Samaritan is constantly being repeated…social and political inertia is turning many parts of the world into a
desolate byway…leaving numbers of the marginalized stranded on the roadside”, writes Pope Francis in the Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (n. 71.)]]]

Peace will not come to Syria without reconstruction and without economic recovery. How long will Syrians have to wait? Time is running out. Many of them have lost hope. Urgent and radical solutions are needed. As an Italian saying goes: “The bull must be taken by horns, not by the tail”.

How can we unlock and open these huge “pipe-lines”, or better “a river” of aid now, before it’s too late? What obstacle is preventing the turning of the key that will open these pipe-lines?

First of all, or at the same time, the present political deadlock between the Parties in the conflict must be overcome with the help of “a constructive international diplomacy on Syria”, as rightly points out the Special Envoy of the United Nations for Syria, Geir Pedersen (Security Council, 9 February 2021).

Allow me to quote some of his wording on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the starting of the conflict: “At the same time must be overcome the ‘you first’ syndrome that has dominated much of the diplomacy around Syria for the last decade… Demands are on all sides, but little movement on any side…

This dynamic has to change. What is needed is mutual and reciprocal steps step by step, from Syrian government and opposition, and key international players…”.

In conclusion: While the peace process is in in this moment in a complete deadlock, the poverty, on the contrary, is moving forward fast!

Damascus 23 March 2021

***

On the NET:

The confederation has just launched a fundraising campaign for Syrian children: https://www.caritas.org/2021/02/syria-tomorrow-is-in-our-hands/

 

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Editorial Director & Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for EXAUDI (& Prior, for ZENIT); Author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/
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