A damaged church is seen after fighting in the old city of Homs, Syria, Sept. 23. The Vatican announced Oct. 16 that a papal delegation, including Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, would visit Syria the following week, to show solidarity with people suffering from the country's civil war. CNS photo/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters

Pope sends cardinals to Syria to promote peace, show solidarity 

By  Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service
  • October 18, 2012

VATICAN CITY - A papal delegation of bishops will travel to the capital of wartorn Syria in late October to show solidarity with victims and encourage peace negotiations.

"In the certainty that the only possible solution to the crisis is a political solution, and bearing in mind the immense suffering of the population, the fate of displaced persons, and the future of that nation, it has been suggested that our synodal assembly express its solidarity," said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, who announced the visit at the world Synod of Bishops.

Syria's civil war has left thousands dead and has displaced hundreds of thousands of refugees since March 2011.

The cardinal said that Pope Benedict XVI had instructed a delegation of six bishops and a priest to express, on behalf of the Pope and the synod, "our fraternal solidarity with the entire population"; "our spiritual closeness to our Christian brothers and sisters"; and "our encouragement to all those involved in seeking an agreement that respects the rights and duties of all, with particular attention to the demands of humanitarian law."

Bertone gave no date for the trip, but said it would take place next week, after completion of the "necessary formalities" with the papal nuncio and the "local authorities" in Damascus.

He also mentioned that the delegation would bring a "personal offering from the synod fathers as well as from the Holy See," which the Vatican press office later confirmed would take the form of a financial contribution.

Members of the delegation will be New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis, the military ordinary of Colombia, Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Phat Diem, Vietnam, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states, and Msgr. Alberto Ortega, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Dolan, chairman of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said he was "honoured" that the Pope had chosen to send him to Syria.

"There can be no question but that the violence in this strife-torn country is causing immense suffering," Dolan said, "and it is the hope of the bishops of the synod that this display of pastoral concern on the part of Pope Benedict might help draw the world's attention even more closely to this unspeakable tragedy."

Another synod member, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said that one purpose of the visit will be "to look, to listen, to try to see and understand better what is going on and how the Church can be helpful."

"But it's also a way of saying to people that we are concerned, that we are here in solidarity with you," said Kicanas, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, which is aiding Syrian refugees in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

"We hope to make known to the international community what the situation is and that the international community must step up and address this very serious situation," the bishop said.

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