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In Syria, Danger and Misery are Abundant, but Solutions Scarce

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In Syria, Danger and Misery are Abundant, but Solutions Scarce

WASHINGTON (CNS) — There is only one word to describe the
images coming out of Syria as the conflict advances: apocalyptic.

Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and once known as its jewel,
sits in rubble, but more tragically so do its people.

“The cradle of civilizations and the birthplace of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, the Middle East has become the theater of incredible
brutality,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to
the United Nations in addressing the U.N. Security Council Oct. 19 about the
deterioration of the situation. “The corpses under the ruins and the wandering
refugees are a clear witness to this cynical contempt and trampling of
international humanitarian law.”

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said to a group of
European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Oct. 17 said that “between now and December, if we cannot find a solution, Aleppo will not
be there anymore.”

Images of children physically hurt or killed in the
conflict have gone viral, prompting pleas this fall from Pope Francis, who said
in an Oct. 12 general audience that he is “begging, with all my strength” for
an immediate cease-fire that would allow the “evacuation of civilians,
especially children, who are still trapped under cruel bombardment.”

Almost everyone agrees that something has to be done. Some
worry that the repercussions of using force would only shift the violence toward
other minority religious groups. Russia and the United States, two external
players in the conflict — one supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, the
other mildly supporting the rebels — keep accusing each other of violating cease-fire
agreements. Meanwhile, the nation’s leader keeps crushing those who want to see
him gone, regardless of how it hurts innocent civilians caught in the middle.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Washington has
been focused on an option that does not include military force even though President
Barack Obama in 2013 said: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but
also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing
a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would
change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Yet when the Assad regime was suspected of crossing that “red
line,” not just once but twice, Washington was reluctant to use force. Secretary
of State John Kerry has not-so-secretly expressed frustration with a policy
that is not backed with any serious threat behind it. The U.S. has favored
hammering out a political solution instead.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican have
been urging an immediate cease-fire to allow humanitarian access to help
civilians trapped in the conflict and called for the beginning of talks that would yield “inclusive
governance,” meaning a new Syrian government that could represent the religious
plurality of the country and include Christians, Sunni and Alawites, the religious
minority that has supported the Assad regime, in the nation’s future governance,
said Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and
Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

“There is no military solution to the problem in Syria,”
Colecchi told Catholic News Service. “The only ultimate solution has to be a political one.”

“I think that if the Alawites and Sunni and the Christians
within Syria, if they all felt that their interests would be protected in a
future Syrian government, they would be able to reach an agreement,” added
Colecchi, who focuses on the Middle East for the USCCB. “Part of what’s
pulling Syria apart are the external players that are fueling the conflict … and
Syrians have paid the price of that.”

The United States, along with Russia, is one of those players, and with an election
looming in November — and one that could yield a new political equation in
Congress — it’s unclear what changes U.S. policy toward Syria will see, if
any, under a new administration.

“I think the Christian community in Syria is profoundly
afraid of a violent transfer of power in Syria, which then could lead to a further
breakdown of a rule of law which then could be exploited by extremists,”
Colecchi said. “I think they desperately want to see stability and a political

For its part, the Catholic Church, Colecchi said, has been
busy providing humanitarian help, not just in Syria, but also to its refugees
fleeing to neighboring countries.

On its website, CRS says that the conflict has seen the
death of many as 400,000 Syrians since 2011, and has uprooted more than 11

The Holy Land Franciscans in October released a video about
their work in Syria, calling attention to the nation’s importance for
Christianity: “Syria is the cradle of civilizations and Christianity after
Jerusalem. Damascus is the place where St. Paul converted” to Christianity,
they said in literature about the video, adding that the church had flourished there for decades. Christians once had
made up about 30 percent of the population, while today it’s about 10 percent
and dwindling because of the conflict. The Holy
Land Franciscans said the “the friars will be there until the last Christian.”

Colecchi said Catholics should care about what’s happening
in Syria because “they’re our brothers and sisters. And not just the large
Christian community that lives in Syria, an ancient Christian community dating
all the way back to St. Paul, but also because Syria is a rich culture and
there are men women and children caught up in this horrific situation. We should
care because there are people there who need our help.”

One also has to consider, Colecchi said, the pressure put on
other nations to accommodate the refugees the conflict has yielded and who are flooding
into Europe, but also into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

“This is not just about Syria, this is about stability in
the region and in the world,” he said.

And Americans, who often voice concerns about terrorism, should
care, he said, because situations of desperation such as the one taking place
in Syria give rise to extremism.

“In the long run, it’s not good for world security and it’s
not good for U.S. security, so there’s a self-interest,” he said. “If we want
stability in our world, we need to see a solution to this situation.”

The pope, he added, may have been saying something when he recently
designated Archbishop Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, a

“I think it was a way of sending a signal, saying he was
acknowledging the tremendous courage of this papal nuncio who remained within
Syria at great risk to himself but also it’s a way of saying the church cares
about the Alawites and the Sunnis and the Christians and others within Syria,”
Colecchi said. “In a very direct way, that’s a symbol of a universal church that’s
concerned for the welfare of Syria.”

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