The president of Caritas in Syria, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, is in Rome this week. Michelle Hough of Caritas Internationalis spoke with the bishop and she asked Catholic News Service to share with its readers his reflections that she wrote down and compiled about what the Syrian people are going through.
By Bishop Antoine Audo
ROME, Italy — Last year – 2014 – really was the hardest of all for those of all us who live in Aleppo. The level of destruction in the city reached its peak. Rockets were raining down on us, we often didn’t have electricity or water and the nights chilled us to the bone.
But we must avoid complaining. When I gave my homily at the beginning of Lent, I told people, “I really can’t talk to you about fasting as we’re always fasting. But you have to remember that there’s always someone worse off than you.”
We must focus on visiting the sick, elderly and lonely. As Caritas, we work on projects, but I’ve told the staff that we must personalize as much as possible what we’re doing and visit specific people every single day. It’s just like what Pope Francis says – we need to come out of ourselves and go to the existential peripheries.
Caritas Syria is there to help all Syrians of all faiths across the country. We work in six regions: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Littoral, Horan and Jasiré. We help people through programs which provide food, medical assistance, educational support, help with paying rent, help of the elderly and counselling.
Not so long ago I came out of my house and there was a Muslim man sitting on the ground outside who had been helped by Caritas. He got to his feet and said, “We know who the Christians are, they are worth their weight in gold!”
Everyone keeps saying that the situation in Syria is like the ones in Lebanon and Iraq, that we need to wait a few years before the war stops. They say that there can be no military solution to the conflict and yet they continue to send arms and to train armed groups. There needs to be a political solution.
People believe because of Daesh and others that this is a Muslim-Christian war, but this isn’t true. Christians are respected by Muslims.
Young people in Syria need to be educated in peace so that they can build and defend it in an Arab and Muslim context. This means by not provoking or humiliating the Muslims and Arabs and by respecting others.
This war has destroyed whole neighborhoods, without forgetting the booming industries that were in Syria and the farming. Half of Syria’s inhabitants are either internally displaced or are refugees. Eighty percent of the workforce doesn’t work. The rich have left, the middle class has become poor and the poor have become destitute. Many people have become poor and ill because of the insecurity and the near-destruction of the economy.
We are tired and enough really is enough. There is great sadness in Syria at what has happened. It’s difficult for me to think about the hopes for the future of the next generation of Syrians.
However, we hope to one day build a real sense of citizenship based on the respect of human rights. When this happens, there must be a healthy distinction between politics and religion with religion not being used to the ends of political power.
Syria is a beautiful country with deep roots in history and humanity. It is a place where people of many religions and cultures can live together as a model of human rights and of civilization. It is a country I love.
Bishop Audo was born in Aleppo in 1946 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1969. He was ordained a priest in 1979 and received his doctorate in contemporary Muslim political thought at the Sorbonne University, Paris. He also studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and was a professor at the University of St. Joseph, Kaslik, Lebanon. He was ordained Bishop of Aleppo in 1992. He is president of Caritas Syria and serves as a member of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue, and Migrants and Travelers.