Pope writes to Syrian president, pleading for peace and aid corridors

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis urged
Syrian President Bashar Assad to do everything possible to end the war in his
country, to protect civilians and to ensure humanitarian agencies can deliver
emergency aid to the people.

Syria’s SANA news agency reported Assad met
Dec. 12 with new Cardinal Mario Zenari, the papal nuncio to Syria, and that the
cardinal delivered a letter from the pope.

The Vatican confirmed the news a few hours
later, saying in a statement that “in naming Archbishop Mario Zenari to
the College of Cardinals, the Holy Father sought to show a particular sign of
affection for the beloved Syrian people, so sorely tried in recent years.”

“In a letter sent through the new
cardinal,” the Vatican statement said, “Pope Francis expressed again
his appeal to President Bashar al-Assad and to the international community for
an end to the to the violence” and for a “peaceful resolution of
hostilities, condemning all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever
quarter they may come.”

The pope also asked Assad “to ensure
that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the
protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid.”

After reciting the Angelus prayer Dec. 11
with people in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said that he is close in prayer to
the people of the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria.

“We must not forget that Aleppo is a
city and that there are people there: families, children, elderly, sick,”
he said. “Unfortunately, we have become used to the war and destruction,
but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, culture and
faith. We cannot allow this to be negated by war, which is a pile of abuse and

Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo
told Catholic News Service by phone Dec. 13 that the Syrian army had liberated
most of the city from ISIS the previous day. He said the Syrian army called for
the terrorists to surrender and come forward without their weapons.

“Unfortunately, there was no
surrendering,” Archbishop Tobji said, adding that Aleppo is still 1
percent or 2 percent under control of the Islamic State.

Yet, because the city is nearly completely
under Syrian army control, “the people are celebrating,” the
archbishop said.

Like a parade, “there were car convoys,
people marching everywhere, expressing their joy,” he said.

As for the future for Aleppo, Archbishop
Tobji said the international community was “always against the wishes of
the Syrian people.”

“Now that we’re looking toward the
future, we’re hoping that the wishes of the Syrian people will be taken into consideration,”
he said.

Archbishop Tobji noted that “there is a
lot to rebuild” and it will be a “huge challenge” to put the
economy on the right track “after all this destruction.”

He commended Pope Francis’ Dec. 12 letter to
Assad, noting that the letter would impact people’s lives, “encouraging
them in their daily tasks.”

“It gives the people hope,” the
archbishop added. “It’s always a plus for the people to hear from the church’s
highest authority such words of encouragement and support.”

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Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

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