Bishop of Aleppo Syria calls for political, not military solution to conflict

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(Vatican Radio) As Western nations debate the merits and risks of punitive intervention in Syria, Christians there are trying to cling to any sense of normalcy in their homeland torn by conflict.

Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo Antoine Audo told Vatican Radio this week that armed intervention in Syria could lead to another World War, and says he hopes that what he calls animal “instincts and anarchy” will not win out over dialogue and reconciliation.

European nations and the United States are considering punitive strikes on Syria following last week’s presumed chemical weapons attack on a Damascus neighborhood.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure on Thursday, Bishop Audo says people in Syria are worried about possible foreign military intervention. He said that many, including many Christians, are pushing for a political solution to the conflict.

Listen to Tracey McClure’s extended interview with Bishop Audo: RealAudioMP3

“We are living day by day, hour by hour…The people are fearing something (will happen).”

He says frustrations have turned to anger and “rage” over the seemingly unending conflict.

“The duty of the international community is to help, to support…peace and reconciliation . The duty of the international community,” he says, “is not to use the (base) instincts, or anarchy. Really for us this a big question as Christians in this situation.”

Asked if Syrians themselves support foreign intervention, Bishop Audo admits his opinion cannot represent all the myriad points of view in Syria. But “as Christians, as people of the Church, generally we are wondering about this way of understanding (military intervention)… we don’t have to use (base) instincts or the anarchy of the people.”

Foreign intervention in Syria he warns, would be dangerous for the entire region. “The circle of war is without end, without solution.”

Christians, he suggests, want the international community “to be the big brother, the big father, a mother for the others and to seek a solution of reconciliation and peace.”

The Vatican and Pope Francis, Bishop Audo points out, have made very clear calls for a non-military solution to the crisis, urging dialogue and reconciliation between the different sides in the conflict.

President of Caritas in Syria, Bishop Audo, says the Catholic humanitarian agency is struggling to meet the growing needs of people in the war torn country. Caritas’s first priority now, he says, is getting food to people who need it most.

People are getting poorer he explains, and they need “to eat first of all.” Caritas has distributed some 10,000 baskets of food, he notes, lamenting that “it’s not enough but we are doing what we can.”

Across the country, Caritas is also providing medical assistance to the sick and wounded. The agency also runs an important educational program. “Now we have a lot of children without schools. For instance, in Aleppo, something like 80% of children did not go to school last year.”

He explains that Caritas has set up a “very important” education program with university students to support some 2,000-3,000 children and students.

Caritas also runs a project to assist elderly people, many of whom live alone and without any support. In Aleppo alone, Bishop Audo says Caritas helps 1,000 elderly people, providing them with medicines and money to buy necessities.

In another program, Caritas raises funds for displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes and must pay rent for accommodations elsewhere.

Bishop Audo, who regularly attended Caritas Internationalis meetings in Rome before the Syrian conflict , just recently cancelled an engagement to speak at a conference in Rimini, Italy. He is not planning any future trips away from Syria. “It’s not the time to think about traveling. Now we have to stay with our people, to be present. It is the most important service that we can give to our communities…so that they see us every day, celebrating mass, listening to them, walking in the street… This is our first duty.”

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