ROME — A senior Vatican official demanded Tuesday that the international community stop the war in Syria, insisting that Western countries should be more sensitive to Christians and other groups currently suffering from violence and religious persecution in the Middle East.
Italian Monsignor Giampietro Dal Toso, the second in command at the Pontifical Council of Cor Unum, called for nations to take up “the efforts and appeals of Pope Francis to stop this war that is bringing so much confusion and death.”
Cor Unum — Latin for “one heart” — is the Vatican office that sets policy for Catholic charitable organizations around the world.
With more than 200,000 people who have already lost their lives in Syria during the two and a half years of conflict, Dal Toso asked: “Is this the Arab Spring we wanted?”
In an exclusive interview with Crux Tuesday, Dal Toso insisted that the world cannot remain on the sidelines, watching the tragedy from afar: “The international community has the responsibility to stop this war.”
Dal Toso was in Damascus, the Syrian capital, for four days in late October to participate in a meeting of local bishops. It was his second visit to the country since the political crisis started.
“The change in the situation is evident,” he said.
The middle class has all but disappeared, he said. There is a shortage of work, housing and medicine cost more, the education system is broken, and there is a general lack of confidence among residents.
“When you get to Damascus, there’s traffic on the streets, you see people coming and going,” he said. “But on a closer look, there are very concrete aspects of life that show the suffering of the Syrian people.”
The prelate appealed to the nations involved in the conflict created by the advance of the Islamic State, which he said has evolved from a political crisis into a war among radical groups trying to gain a toehold in the region.
“All the parties involved have the responsibility of finding a way to stop the violence and begin a process of reconciliation,” he said.
To that end, Dal Toso said, Muslim leaders must also get involved in the peace process, as they are responsible for caring for their own people.
“Christians aren’t the only victims of ISIS,” he said. “The consequences of this war are being paid by all the inhabitants, including our Muslim brothers.”
According to United Nations statistics, Syria had a population of 22 million before the violence began in 2011. Since then, at least 10 million people have left their homes as refugees, traveling to other cities or bordering countries.
Despite the tragedy, there is a silver lining — at least for the Catholic community that remains in Syria.
“I was very impressed by the fact that the Syrian Catholic community feels a big support from the universal Church,” he said. “They are conscious of their belonging to a bigger body, and this is a help for them. It gives them a reason to hope.”
What makes such support palpable to them? Dal Toso cited the words and the prayers of Pope Francis, the diplomatic and humanitarian actions of the Church, and, in particular, the support of Catholic communities around the world that are sending material aid to victims.