The Temple of Bel as seen at Palmyra, Syria, a city that was taken and occupied by the Islamic State in 2015. Photo courtesy of Bernard Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis lauds Middle East effort to save local art and culture

  • December 5, 2016

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis endorsed a recent conference dedicated to the conservation and restoration of art and heritage within the Middle East, as a means to defend the rights of the human person.

The Pope gave his support for the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Conference, which occurred at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, on Dec. 2-3. Supported by UNESCO, France and the UAE set up the conference in hopes of protecting the heritage of the countries torn by war within the Middle East.

Identifying the theme as “unfortunately starkly current,” the Pope said that “the protection of cultural treasures constitutes an essential dimension in the defense of what it is to be human.”

In countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, and Syria – each exposed to centuries of war – looting, destruction to cultural monuments, and illicit trading are commonplace. Within these cultures, all of which extend over a millennium back, many culturally significant pieces and property have already been damaged or obliterated. National Geographic has reported on specific pieces which have faced or are facing extinction, including the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, and the toppled statues of the Mosul Museum in Iraq by ISIS militants.

Both the president of France, François Hollande, and the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have organized the conference with over 40 representatives from other countries.

The conference is supported by UNESCO, an organization within the UN dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating damaged art, cultural monuments, and natural wonders. Since its establishment in 1945, UNESCO has retained significant art and nature all over world. Having already helped restore the Old Walled City of Shibam, Yemen and even Yellowstone National Park within the US, UNESCO will be an important piece in enforcing and organizing the restoration.

“This will be a historical initiative to pass down our legacy of tolerance and value of heritage,” said the organization's chairman of tourism, Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, who added that the project would need to raise $100 million in order to do so.

Partnering with UNESCO and relying on their previous expertise, countries will look to establish the Global Fund for Culture in order to reconstruct places like Nimrud or Palmyra. France and a few other countries have also shown interest in housing artifacts until it is safe for their return.

For the countries of the Middle East under violence and constraints to religious freedom, the Pope trusts this conference will bring about a greater concern for the human person. “I hope that this event marks a new step in the process of the implementation of human rights,” he said.

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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