Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio in Damascus, says that Syria’s ongoing civil war and its war with ISIS have produced one of the most catastrophic humanitarian crises since the Second World War, with “upwards of 200,000 deaths, more than a million casualties, more than 7 million IDPs and 4 million refugees.”
Worst of all, says Zenari, “this is happening in full view of the world.”
The archbishop said that the situation has hit minority groups hardest, and the Christian community has been living in a “situation of tension” for some time. The fear is not limited to Christians, however. “Everyone lives in fear,” he said, and for this reason “everyone who can leave, does.”
Zenari said there is a broad perception that Syrians in general and Christians in particular “feel abandoned by the international community,” which is understandable, he said, “since they see no tangible results.”
Some of the measures that have been adopted by the international community, Zenari said, “such as cutting off supplies arriving to these people, their bank accounts and oil,” as well as stopping would-be jihadists “coming from Europe before they arrive,” have had limited success, and should be continued.
More needs to be done, however. “We must stop and solve the situation of civil conflict, but at the same time stop the advance of this caliphate,” he said.
Both fronts are incredibly serious, Zenari said. Syria’s civil war “has lasted four years, and in three weeks we will enter the fifth year of civil war.” Add to this, he said, “the atrocious and horrible events occurring in areas under the control of the caliphate.” These are two battlefronts, he said, and “one is worse than the other.”
Archbishop Zenari said that Pope Francis is following the Syrian crisis closely. He is now in Ariccia for a week of spiritual exercises but continues to receive reports on the dramatic situation, including the recent kidnappings of about 250 Syrian Christians.
“It’s clear,” said Zenari, “that the Pope lives constantly thinking of us, thinking about the situation of the Christians and the situation of all these people who are suffering.”
The Pope is “constantly informed and his prayer is always in tune with the suffering of these people and with the Christians in particular,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.