Cardinal Zenari: Hope dying in Syria as world forgets our plight

The Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, calls on the international community to make a sign of good faith regarding economic sanctions, and laments the decline in the Syrian people’s hope as the world forgets the long-suffering people.

Nov 30, 2021

File photo of a man sitting in his bombed-out house in Aleppo in 2017 (AFP or licensors)


VATICAN:
Life on the streets of Damascus appears like that of any other large Middle Eastern capital: the streets fill up as people drive to and from work, and shops are full of foodstuffs.

Yet look closer and the glass façade shatters to reveal the harsh reality. After years of civil war, prices of goods are exorbitant in relation to salaries, the middle-class has crumpled into rags, and 90 percent of Syria’s population—reduced by 6.8 million due to mass emigration—lives under to poverty line.

A state employee earns around 75,000 Syrian Pound (SYP), or 60 US dollars, while a single kilogram of baby formula costs just under 12,000 SYP ($10) and a full tank of petrol eats up 20,000 SYP ($16).

An economic bomb is killing Syria’s hope
This harsh economic reality has left the 17 million people who remain in Syria—6.7 million of whom are internally displaced—with little hope left.

Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria for over 13 years, lamented this desperate situation in an interview with Vatican News.

“I am extremely sorry to see that hope is dying,” said the Cardinal who has lived in Damascus throughout the war. “Naturally, I was greatly pained to watch people, especially children, die during the war, but beyond this suffering people nourished glimmers of hope; they said that eventually the war would end, and people would be able to go back to work, make a little money, and perhaps repair their homes and return to a normal life.”

Cardinal Zenari said this dream is far from the reality Syrians are facing today, which is filled with poverty.

“Bombs are no longer falling in many parts of Syria, but another terrible bomb has exploded which has silently opened a gaping wound,” he said, referring to the 90 percent of Syrians who live in poverty.

Punishing sanction
Syria, added the Apostolic Nuncio, faces continuing economic uncertainty, largely as a result of the international sanctions against the government.

He said the sanctions combine with growing corruption, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the economic and political crisis in Lebanon to place a heavy economic burden on the Syrian population.

Cardinal Zenari called on the European Union and the United States—along with the Syrian government—to take a step of good faith and remove the sanctions regime, so that Syria can begin to rebuild and restart its economy.

“It is the people—the poor people—who are suffering,” he said, pointing to a recent report by the World Food Program (WFP) that counted 12 million Syrians (60 percent of the population) as living in food insecurity.

Forgotten war
Another painful reality, added Cardinal Zenari, is the general lack-of-interest on the part of the international media.

“Up until two years ago I was receiving interview requests from across the globe,” he said. “Now, no one asks questions about Syria. They tell me that news about Syria is no longer interesting journalistically.”

And he thanked the Catholic and Christian news agencies which seek to “keep Syria from being forgotten, to try to keep some hope alive.”

Meeting of Syrian Church and charity agencies
Cardinal Zenari then pointed out that he has convoked a conference—scheduled for 15-17 March 2022—of the entire Syrian Church and charitable agencies working in Syria.

The goal, said the Cardinal, is to coordinate the many charitable activities in Syria to better serve those in need.

“For the past 10 years, everyone has worked with much goodwill but with little coordination with others,” he said. “So, the theme of the Synod on synodality—the Church’s action of walking together—is a wonderful occasion to walk together in service of charity in this extremely difficult moment for Syria.”--Vatican News

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