DUBLIN – In a keynote address at the World Meeting of Families on Friday, Cardinal Mario Zenari outlined the atrocities lived by families in Syria and other conflict zones, who respond to immense suffering with peace and courage.
“How many families, how many women, how many children deserve recognition, an international award! But they are too many!” he said Aug. 24.
“Moreover, they are unknown people, too poor, they cannot speak, they are not dressed appropriately, they are not in possession of an identity card or passport.” He continued: “Never will any of these people be invited to hold a conference.”
Zenari, who has been apostolic nuncio in Syria since the end of 2008, began his address by playing a slideshow of photos showing the devastation of the past seven years of civil war in Syria.
The people caught in conflicts around the world, in places like Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Yemen “are small, small fish,” he said, and even “the tangles of the humanitarian corridor’s net” are too large for them – they are “destined to remain at the bottom of the sea…”
“But, after all, why take an interest in them? What extraordinary [thing] have they done?” he asked.
Throughout his presentation, the cardinal listed story after story of men, women, and children whose lives have been shattered by the war in Syria – whether through displacement, hunger, injury, or death – and the heroic ways they have held on to hope.
“If on the one hand this incredible suffering leaves us bewildered,” he said, we are also deeply struck by “the serenity with which certain people, mothers above all, have been able to accept and overcome painful trials.”
In his presentation, the cardinal spoke about families with so little food to go around, that parents have had to choose day-by-day which child would eat, and which would go to bed hungry.
He also recalled the 60-some children who were killed or maimed when a bomb exploded in the courtyard of an Armenian Catholic school during Holy Week in 2014.
Visiting the hospital after the explosion, he encountered a 9-year-old child who, wounded in the blast, had needed both legs amputated. The child was anxious and, realizing what had happened, asked: “Lord, why did all this happen to me?”
Zenari also recounted stories of refugee camps, family separation, illness, the death of children, and other moments of profound suffering endured by hundreds of thousands since the start of the war in 2011.
“As happens in every war, there are people who try to take advantage of it and get rich even on the skin of poor people,” he commented. But there is also hope: “scenes of solidarity and altruism, often among the refugees themselves.”
The cardinal concluded his talk by quoting from the Song of Solomon, in which the prophet says, “Rise, my friend… the winter has passed, and the rain has ceased. …flowers have appeared in the fields.”
He tied the hopeful “flowers” of the Song of Solomon to the rose of Damascus, which in literature, he said, is famous for being “blood red, rich in petals, fragrant.”
“Every time I walk into St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, I sit for a long time in front of Michelangelo’s masterpiece: The Pieta,” he added. “It seems to me to represent the pain of so many mothers. In the ‘Pieta,’ I see almost the whole of Syria transfigured, holding up its dead and wounded children.”