LAUNCH OF ACN’S CAMPAIGN:
CANDLES FOR PEACE IN SYRIA
“After almost 8 years of conflict in Syria, the consequences are indescribable, above all for the little children. Through our campaign we want to raise awareness of the critical conditions into which the country has been plunged and pray for peace and reconciliation.”- said Philipp Ozores, the Secretary General of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International, who yesterday presented the charity’s campaign Candles for Peace in Syria at the Polish embassy to the Holy See in Rome. ACN Syria campaign aiming at awareness raising, was formally launched by Pope Francis the day before. In the days leading up to the event over 50,000 children of different religions, from a number of different Syrian cities, had painted images and symbols of peace on the side of their candles. ACN is calling on people of good will around the world to respond to this heartfelt cry for peace from the children of Syria, by lighting a candle, as Pope Francis did after the Angelus prayer in Rome on Sunday.
The presentation at the Polish Embassy was attended by many of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. “We need the support of national governments”, Mr Ozores told them, adding, “For there to be peace in Syria we need concrete actions.”
The Polish ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Janusz Kotański stated: “Yesterday, the Holy Father Francis, has lit the first candle, we want to light them as many as needed to light up the darkness that prevails in Syria, in Iraq and in all places where Christians are persecuted and suffer because of Christ.” Ambassador Kotański also said that especially Poles will remember them and he expressed his certitude that helping Christians in the Middle East is and will be the priority for the Polish government. “Those who suffer will not be left alone. If I forget you, o Jerusalem, you, God in heaven, forget about me (ref. Psalm 137). We can never forget those suffering children, the suffering Christians who are this living Jerusalem of our times.” – summed-up Polish ambassador, before giving the floor to the invited guests – witnesses coming from Syria with the first-hand experience of the situation.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, described the civil war in Syria as a “slaughter of the innocents” in which many children had been “killed by bombs, drowned in the ocean, suffocated by poison gas, mutilated, traumatised, subjected to sexual abuse, forcibly enlisted in the Army or else – as has happened to many young Syrian girls – forced to “marry” total strangers at an extremely tender age”.
There was profound bitterness in the words of Syriac-Catholic Archbishop Antoine Denys Chahda of Aleppo: “Our churches, mosques, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, as have our lives also”, he declared, before making his own appeal to the diplomats present and all the superpowers making of Syria their playground: “Please convey our message to your governments. We Syrians only ask for justice, peace and love.”
Sister Fida Chaya, a Syrian religious of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne- Antide Thouret (the Besançon Sisters), described the conflict through the drama of the children from the school that was run by her congregation in Damascus. This school was completely destroyed and is now sheltered in the termit steel construction containers in the middle of the city, which was a safer place during the fierce battles. Sister Fida was going on to underline the importance of supporting the ACN campaign. “Your gestures of support make us realise that you are close to us, despite the distance”, she said. “And we are also grateful to you for all your prayers.”
Sister Annie Demerjian, another Syrian religious of the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, displayed some powerful images of the suffering caused by the war, a suffering that she herself witnessed in Aleppo along with its people. “It is difficult to imagine how much the Syrian children had to endure. Children robbed of their childhood and of the joy which should characterise their youthful years”, she explained.
“During these years the faces of the Syrian children have cried out for help. By lighting these candles we can give them hope”, added Father Andrzej Halemba, the head ACN’s project section for the Middle East. He then opened up a live video linkup with a group of children in a primary school in Aleppo. In such a way the children in Syria united with the ambassadors and other guests in Rome, following the example of Pope Francis, lit up candles made in Damascus.
“A splendid bridge of light has been established” between Rome and Aleppo, said Alfredo Mantovano, the president of the Italian national office of ACN. Quoting the words of the Polish poet Stanislaw Wyspianski, he emphasised the need for “those many who have fallen asleep in the Western world to wake up and redouble their efforts for our suffering brethren, whose testimonies we have heard today, filling us with gratitude.”
After this Cardinal Zenari lit the first virtual candle in ACN’s online campaign “Light a candle for peace” inviting all people of good will to do the same and support children’s plea for peace in Syria.
For further information about the Christmas Campaign for Syria: Click Here