I welcome you all and am very happy to see so many of you gathered here.
My special thanks for being here go to:
Mr. Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (he will come later with a delegation of UNHCR);
The Apostolic Nuncios to Syria, Iraq and Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey;
Officials and Superiors of the Dicasteries of the Holy See present here;
Bishops, priests, men and women religious from Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries;
The director of the St. Ephrem Development Committee of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Damascus;
The Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches;
Many thanks to all of you, representatives of more than 50 Catholic agencies involved in the response to the Syrian and Iraqi crisis in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.
Thanks to the representatives of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, with whom, through the Interdicasterial Working Group - born precisely from a recommendation of the meeting on the crisis of 2016- our Dicastery has carried out the work and initiatives on the Syrian and Iraqi crisis and the organisation of this meeting.
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development exercises its mandate “in the areas of justice and peace, issues related to migration, health, charitable work and the care of creation”; it “expresses the Holy Father’s care for suffering humanity, including the needy, the sick and the excluded, and pays special attention to the needs and issues of those who are forced to flee their homeland, the marginalized, victims of armed conflicts and others whose dignity is endangered”; it also “coordinates initiatives of Catholic institutions engaged in these matters, especially those institutions that help respond to the most pressing needs”.
It is precisely in this pastoral and research perspective that the commitment and particular attention of our Dicastery for humanitarian crises is registered, in this specific case for the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, which extends to neighbouring countries and also beyond the Middle East.
Our commitment and our attention are expressed in putting ourselves at the service of Catholic charitable organizations that work in response to the crisis, in a spirit of communion and collaboration. The main objective is to create and strengthen synergies, to give life – as we are doing today - to spaces for sharing with the widest number of subjects involved, in order to strengthen and improve the mechanisms of a common way of responding to emergencies among the various institutions, while still respecting the subsidiarity, the mandate and the specificity of each.
We are particularly grateful for the presence of all of you, as this bears witness to how the Holy See is the place where all those who work for peace and justice – the faithful and men and women of good will - can meet and collaborate, for the good of every person and of the whole person, that is, for integral human development. This is the core of the Church's mission. We are witnesses to this here and now. Thank you once again for all this.
Every day we renew our commitment and we do not work alone, but side by side with other international actors and civil society organizations. That is why among us we have an important representative of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, whom we are going to be able to listen to and have a chance to dialogue with.
I thank and encourage you and all your collaborators working in the field, professionals and volunteers, men and women, religious who are involved in these areas of crisis in the name of Christ: yours is a radiant witness of Christian charity.
The survey that our Dicastery has conducted - in collaboration with Caritas Internationalis - on the response of Church institutions to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, shows an extensive and tireless commitment of all of you in helping the victims of the crisis, in responding to the most urgent needs, especially in the areas of education, health care and psychosocial support, with special attention to the most vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly and children. Commitment in these areas, which can project us into the future, is an important sign of hope.
That is why we decided to give the survey report - and this meeting- a significant title: "You did it for me": we wanted to emphasize that, as a Church, we will continue to untiringly care for all the victims of this crisis, in whom we see the face of Christ during his Passion, faithful to His Word: "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me".
The objectives of this meeting can be outlined as follows:
- To strengthen the exchange of information between the various institutions involved in responding to the crisis;
- To analyse the current humanitarian situation, the evolution and the changes underway in the Church network’s response to the crisis in the different countries, and to identify the trends, priorities, challenges and prospects for the future;
- To define common and shared paths of reflection and action, in order to respond adequately and effectively to the renewed needs of the populations affected by the crisis;
- To strengthen the collaboration between the different actors at all levels, finding renewed forms of coordination at local and international level;
- To reflect on the situation of the Christian communities in the countries directly and indirectly affected by the crisis and on how the Church network can support them;
- To reflect on the return t of displaced persons and refugees to their communities of origin: on how to guarantee a safe and dignified voluntary return, on the role of the Church, on how to better assist these communities.
Alongside the response to the most urgent primary needs which is still relevant today, particularly in some areas of Syria, we are witnessing important changes in the initiatives of crisis response, that are projecting us towards a different phase of humanitarian activity: while it will be important to continue to respond to emergencies where necessary, it will be increasingly important to adapt the response to the sustainability needs of families, to the desire to build a more solid and stable future, through long-term livelihoods, vocational training initiatives for young people, agricultural and economic development, and the creation of job opportunities.
I encourage you to give your valuable contribution in these two days of work. We are here to share and listen to each other, so that together we can strengthen and improve our action. From tomorrow's working groups we also expect concrete suggestions and proposals to be developed together in the following months.
The Syrian and Iraqi crisis is one of the most serious humanitarian crises of the post-war period. More than seven years after the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the United Nations estimates that there are more than 13 million people in need in Syria, of whom more than 5 million are children, and almost 9 million in Iraq, of whom more than 4 million are children. More than 5.6 million Syrian refugees are registered in neighbouring countries, particularly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, while 6 million are internally displaced in Syria and 2 million in Iraq.
The numbers continue to be alarming and reveal how much work is still needed to help the victims of the crisis. That is why the Church, despite the prolonged crisis, maintains an important and extensive commitment.
Together, let us look at the signs of hope, at those who return to their communities of origin, to the plain of Nineveh in Iraq and, albeit to a lesser extent, to some areas of Syria; at the children who can go back to school, at the sick, who can be cared for.
Together, let us pray for peace in Syria and throughout the Middle East. I quote the words of the Holy Father at the conclusion of the ecumenical dialogue of 7 July last in Bari: “There is no real alternative to peace-making. Truces maintained by walls and displays of power will not lead to peace, but only the concrete desire to listen and to engage in dialogue. We commit ourselves to walking, praying and working together, in the hope that the art of encounter will prevail over strategies of conflict (…).War is the scourge that tragically assails this beloved region (…).Violence is always fuelled by weapons. You cannot speak of peace while you are secretly racing to stockpile new arms. This is a most serious responsibility weighing on the conscience of nations, especially the most powerful”.
May peace be in Syria, in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, "crossroads of civilizations and cradle of the great monotheistic religions". In Bari last July, the Holy Father also stated: "In the Middle East our very souls are rooted. Yet the Middle East has become a land of people who leave their own lands behind. There is also the danger that the presence of our brothers and sisters in the faith will disappear, disfiguring the very face of the region. For a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East”.
May your days of work be fruitful and productive.
Thank you for your attention.
13 Settembre 2018