On the same day that the 6000 rosaries blessed earlier, on 15 August, by the Pope were distributed in the parishes of Syria, Pope Francis also blessed the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Sorrows and Consolatrix of the Syrian People.

This was a new gesture on the part of the Holy Father in support of the “Console my People” campaign of prayer for Syrian Christians organized by ACN together with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Syria on behalf of those whose near and dear ones have been abducted or killed during the eight years of the conflict.

This morning at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis met with a delegation from ACN led by Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international president of the Foundation, and blessed an icon specially painted by a Greek Orthodox artist for this particular prayer campaign. This artist was also a member of the delegation, as were a number of national directors of ACN. Earlier on 15 August the Pope had already expressed his support for the initiative, even specially inviting the international executive president of ACN, Thomas Heine-Geldern, to stand with him at his balcony window at the conclusion of the Angelus greeting, during the blessing of the rosaries.

These 6000 rosaries, blessed by the Holy Father and made by Christian craftsmen in Bethlehem and Damascus, are being distributed today in the parishes of all 34 Syrian diocese – both Catholic and Orthodox – in commemoration of the feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the celebration of Holy Mass in these parishes and in the various different processions connected with them the faithful will be praying for those who were killed or abducted during the war and for their families. Altogether some 2000 Christian families have lost one or more loved ones during the conflict and 800 had a family member abducted. Along with the rosaries, Bibles in Arabic, also donated by ACN, are being distributed, along with crosses made of olive wood from the Holy Land and blessed by Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ephraim III.

On several occasions Pope Francis has alluded to the ACN initiatives on behalf of the Martin Syrian people. On Sunday 2 December, after the Angelus, the Pope lit a candle as part of the ACN prayer campaign “Candles for Peace in Syria”.

Following today’s meeting, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Holy Father for his affectionate closeness, as always wherever there are tears to be dried, a sign of just how much the world needs compassion. He added that the feast of the Sorrowful Mother offered us a lesson of true and profound compassion and maternal tenderness. Mary suffers for Jesus, but at the same time she also suffers with Jesus, and the passion of Christ is a sharing in the whole of human suffering, he said.