ASIA/SYRIA – The Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo: “The Pope’s comfort reached Aleppo”

Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) – Benedict XVI’s visit also gave comfort to the Christians of Aleppo, the Syrian metropolis which for two months has been in the middle of armed clashes between the rebels and the Syrian army. This is what the Jesuit Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and President of Caritas Syria tells Fides Agency. He and the other Catholic Bishops of the city were unable to travel to Lebanon to meet Benedict XVI, remaining close to their faithful. A renunciation that, paradoxically, allowed them to experiment in particular the bond of communion that unites them to the Successor of Peter: “As Bishops of Aleppo,” notes Mgr. Audo, “we sent a message to His Holiness before he started his journey to the Middle East. Listening to his words and looking at his gestures, it seemed to me that Benedict XVI read our letter. With words and deeds, we wanted to say that we share the same gaze on the suffering of our people.” The Bishop is re-reading Benedict XVI’s speeches in Lebanon, enjoying each sentence. He confides to Fides: “The Pope was able to speak with evangelical simplicity. There was no complication, his words were simple and profound, they flowed from the heart of the faith and this is why they touched the heart of things. He was able to speak with great affection to Muslims, thanking them in particular for a successful visit.” In addition, the Pope’s references to the situation in Syria heartened the Chaldean Bishop: “Benedict XVI” says to Fides Msgr. Audo “does not speak like the media. He does not say phrases that repeat themselves. He says a personal word of faith and freedom, this is his strength. What he said on arms trafficking, calling it a ‘grave sin’, suggests that he is also well aware of what is happening here. And certainly his are the words of the Pastor. They are not at the service of some economic or military power.” The Bishop defends his confreres, and all the Christians of the Middle East, from who accuses them of being subjected to authoritarian regimes: “It is unfair and unfounded criticism. Even among Christians there are many who are hoping for a change that really leads to greater freedom. Christians are the vast majority of ordinary people, exposed to all violences. They understand the realities of the Country and wait to see what will happen. As the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï also said, they do not want to defend any regime. They only want to live in peace, freedom and mutual respect, far from extremism. But this is a subject that many do not want to hear now.” Bishop Audo underlines how the desire for a quiet and peaceable life comes to surface in these tragic days, with air strikes and armed clashes moving from area to area: “We find the way to work. Celebrations continue in all the parishes that are outside the danger zones. In this situation a new sense of unity blooms among Christians, one puts aside all division among the different communities. We all work together in the works of assistance for the poor and refugees who have sought shelter in schools. Even here, in the church where I live, there is daily Mass at 6 p.m., and I see that all stay in the great courtyard, and friendly and brotherly love is created. I realize that everyone needs to come together, and to feel protected by the Church.” (GV) (Agenzia Fides 18/09/2012).