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In Turkey, Iraqi Christians waiting for resettlement live in limbo

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Catholic News Service

 

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life.

“Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives. Read more »

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Memorial marking where Moses saw Promised Land reopens in Jordan

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Catholic News Service

 

MOUNT NEBO, Jordan — The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo has reopened its doors to the public amid festivities, after nearly a decade of restoration.

Believed by ancient tradition to be the site where Moses saw the Promised Land and died, a church and monastery are perched atop this 3,300-foot rugged mountain facing the northern end of the Dead Sea. It has drawn Christian pilgrims throughout the centuries and is considered one of the most important pilgrimage, tourist, and archaeological sites in Jordan and the Holy Land. Read more »

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Jesuits elect Venezuelan as new head of order

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, a member of the Jesuits’ Venezuelan province, was elected the first non-European superior general of the Society of Jesus Oct. 14.

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, right, the new superior general of the Society of Jesus, greets the previous superior general, Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, after his election in Rome Oct. 14. Father Sosa, 67, is a member of the Jesuits' Venezuelan province. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, right, the new superior general of the Society of Jesus, greets the previous superior general, Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, after his election in Rome Oct. 14. Father Sosa, 67, is a member of the Jesuits’ Venezuelan province. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

The 212 voting delegates to the Jesuit general congregation elected Father Sosa, 67. He succeeds Father Adolfo Nicolas, 80, who had asked to resign because of his age.

Pope Francis was informed of the election of Father Sosa before the Jesuits announced it publicly.

The election came after four days of prayer, silence and quiet one-on-one conversations among the voting delegates, who were chosen to represent the more than 16,000 Jesuits around the world.

In an interview Oct. 7 about the pre-election phase of the congregation, Father Sosa said delegates gathered come from different countries, but they share a common culture linked to their experience of the Ignatian spiritual exercises and practices of discernment. “We have a long tradition and a strong desire to listen to the same voice, that is the voice of the Holy Spirit,” he said in an interview published on the Jesuits’ gc36.org website.

Father Sosa was born in Caracas, Nov. 12, 1948. He joined the Jesuits in 1966 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977.

Prior to the election, he was Father Nicolas’ delegate for the international houses and works of the Society of Jesus in Rome. He has a doctorate in political science from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He speaks Spanish, Italian, English and understands French, according to a press release from the Jesuits.

The resignation of Father Nicolas and the election of Father Sosa came during the order’s 36th general congregation, which began Oct. 2. After the election, the gathering was to continue as delegates focus on questions of Jesuit identity and governance, vocations, mission and collaboration with the laity.

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Colombian president wins Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to end civil war

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OSLO, Norway — Even though the people of Colombia rejected the terms of a peace accord ending more than 50 years of civil war, the Nobel committee chose Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, pictured in a 2015 photo, has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. (CNS photo/Jose Miguel Gomez, Reuters)

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, pictured in a 2015 photo, has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. (CNS photo/Jose Miguel Gomez, Reuters)

“The fact that a majority of the voters said no to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead,” the committee said, announcing the prize Oct. 7.

The referendum Oct. 2 “was not a vote for or against peace,” the prize announcement said. “What the ‘no’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”

The committee honored Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to 6 million people.”

The prize, it said, “should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.”

The committee also recognized that “striking a balance between the need for national reconciliation and ensuring justice for the victims will be a particularly difficult challenge,” one signaled by the rejection of the agreement by a narrow margin.

The Colombian bishops’ conference, in a statement after the referendum was defeated, said it was clear that “we all want peace,” but also that the Colombian people wanted a greater say in the exact terms meant to end 52 years of civil war while promoting justice and the unification of all the country’s people. “We can build the peace we yearn for only if we overcome polarization and divisions to unite around a common ideal.”

The bishops’ conference pledged the Catholic Church’s willingness to do everything possible to design and develop “initiatives that will help eradicate the roots of violence, defend life and the family and promote coexistence in peace and just for all Colombians.”

At the invitation of Santos and leaders of the rebel movement FARC, the Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was present for the initial signing Sept. 26 of the peace accord later rejected by voters.

Leading some 2,500 people in prayer before the signing ceremony, Cardinal Parolin had said, “Colombians have lived through forced displacements and violence. … And that is why we need to find the road to peace and justice.”

Pope Francis had said he would like visit Colombia once the peace agreement was finalized and approved by the people. Speaking to reporters just a few hours before the results of the referendum were announced, he said he would go to the South American country when everything is completely safe and when it is clear “there is no going back” to a state of civil war.

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Hurricane Matthew tears through Haiti, how to help storm survivors

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Catholic News Service

Wind-whipped rains from Hurricane Matthew shattered Haiti’s southwest peninsula, downing trees, ripping open makeshift wooden homes and causing widespread flooding Oct. 4 as aid workers waited for the storm to subside before mobilizing.

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

The city of Les Cayes and coastal towns and villages in South Department were experiencing the most destruction as the storm made landfall at dawn with 145-mile-an-hour winds.

Forecasters expected Matthew to dump up to 30 inches of rain in most communities, with some locales receiving up to 40 inches.

Les Cayes and surrounding areas were the focus of concern for Catholic Relief Services. Kim Pozniak, communications manager, told Catholic News Service that the potential for landslides was high because of the geography of the region.

She said CRS staff also was troubled over the well-being of residents who decided to stay in their homes despite calls to evacuate.

“I was told by staff in Les Cayes yesterday (Oct. 3) that the government was going around with megaphones to alert people. But many decided to stay put to protect their homes and belongings. We’’ve heard that some people did not think the storm would be as severe as predicted,” Pozniak said.

She said Chris Bessey, CRS country director, had been in contact with CRS staff in Les Cayes, despite disruptions in electrical and internet service.

“Trees were knocked down and also there was some flooding already,” she said. “We’re unable to communicate with the staff in Les Cayes because everything is down.”

The agency had positioned relief supplies, including food, sanitation and kitchen kits and emergency shelter materials in warehouses in the area, and workers were prepared to begin delivering aid once the storm moved north. Engineers were stationed in three locales and were preparing to begin assessing damage to homes and to help people with the shelter materials, Pozniak said.

In the hours before the storm made landfall, CRS staff had assisted Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency by offering vehicles and fuel for use to help with evacuation, she added.

Accepting donations

CRS and at least one other Catholic agency had begun accepting donations for their emergency responses in Haiti:

  • Catholic Relief Services online at donate.crs.org/hurricane-matthew-crs; via mail to P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Maryland, 21297-0303 and indicate Hurricane Matthew in the memo; or call toll-free 877-435-7277 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Catholic Medical Mission Board online at www.cmmb.org/donations/hurricane-matthew/.

Heavy rains also pounded the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing some flooding in low-lying areas, but winds were not as severe, Jacques Liautaud, Haiti manager for the church rebuilding project known as PROCHE, told Catholic News Service Oct. 4.

“We’re seeing mostly rain and a few gusts of high winds. Otherwise, it’s been relatively calm,” said Liautaud, who was in the country monitoring construction projects underway to help the Catholic Church rebuild after the country’s powerful 2010 earthquake.

“The city is pretty shut down today. Everybody is sheltering in place,” he said.

Liautaud added that Haitian media reported that at least three people had died because of the storm. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The center of Matthew was expected to continue on a northward path through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. Heavy rains were expected in eastern Cuba, and hurricane warnings were issued for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. Weather forecasters in the United States were keeping an eye on the storm’s path and expected it to pass just offshore from Florida and the southeast coast. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state Oct. 3.

 

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Before St. Ignatius’ tomb, Jesuits begin process to choose new superior

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Jesuits gathered in Rome to elect a new superior general were invited to draw on “the audacity of the improbable” during a Mass to open their general congregation.

The order’s voting delegates, the outgoing Jesuit superior, Father Adolfo Nicolas, and Jesuits living in Rome celebrated the Mass at Rome’s Church of the Gesu Oct. 2, before the tomb of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Jesuit delegates attend the opening Mass for the general congregation of the Society of Jesus at the Church of the Gesu in Rome Oct. 2. Jesuit delegates from around the world are meeting in Rome to elect a new superior general. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

Jesuit delegates attend the opening Mass for the general congregation of the Society of Jesus at the Church of the Gesu in Rome Oct. 2. Jesuit delegates from around the world are meeting in Rome to elect a new superior general. (CNS photo/Don Doll, S.J.)

The principal celebrant at the Mass was Father Bruno Cadore, superior general of the Dominicans. He said in his homily that the Society of Jesus is called “to dare the audacity of the ‘improbable’” along with the “evangelical willingness to do it with the humility” of knowing everything depends on God.

In the day’s Gospel reading, the apostles’ request to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith,” was an apt and beautiful prayer for opening the general congregation, the Dominican priest said.

Jesus teaches faith is necessary, even if it is “as modest in appearance as a mustard seed,” he said. Disciples must remember they remain “unworthy servants” while they dare to aim for the incredible and seemingly impossible, such as rebuilding and renewing a broken world.

The audacity of evangelization is about pointing people to the one who “has done the improbable when he destroyed death and made life and immortality shine through the Gospel.”

Jesus still invites everyone to make themselves servants of a table, “a table of sinners, a table of welcome for all to which are invited the blind and the lame, Pharisees and publicans, adulterers and good people,” he said.

He also urged the Jesuits to find the strength and creativity of fidelity to the Holy Spirit “as he leads us to encounter and to listen to the other.”

The current superior, Father Adolfo Nicolas, formally presented his resignation Oct. 3 and named U.S. Father James E. Grummer, provincial of the Wisconsin Province, to be vicar general of the Jesuits for the period up until a new superior general is elected, probably around Oct. 10.

Father Nicolas announced in 2014 that he would tender his resignation this year after more than eight years in office. He turned 80 in April.

Like the pope, the superior general of the Jesuits is elected for life, although the Jesuit constitutions include provisions for the superior general to resign. In 2008, Father Nicolas succeeded Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who resigned at age 79.

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In Tbilisi, Georgia, Pope cites ‘global war’ against marriage

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TBILISI, Georgia — Pope Francis said a global war against marriage is underway and Catholics must respond by helping couples stay strong and by providing pastoral care to those experiencing difficulty.

Pope Francis meets with volunteers and people receiving assistance from the Catholic Church near an assistance center run by the Order of St. Camillus in Tbilisi, Georgia, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets with volunteers and people receiving assistance from the Catholic Church near an assistance center run by the Order of St. Camillus in Tbilisi, Georgia, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Today there is a global war to destroy marriage,” the pope said Oct. 1 during a meeting in Tbilisi with priests, religious, seminarians and laypeople active in parish life.

“Today you do not destroy with weapons, you destroy with ideas,” the pope said. “It is ideological colonization that destroys.”

The only way to defend marriage against the onslaught, he said, is to help couples “make peace as soon as possible, before the day ends, and don’t forget the three words: ‘May I?’ ‘’Thank you’ and ‘Forgive me.’”

“Marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created,” Pope Francis said. In marriage, man and woman become one flesh, “the image of God.”

“When you divorce one flesh you sully the God’s image,” he said.

A woman named Irina, who with her husband, Zurab, minister to other families and teach natural family planning, had told Pope Francis that Georgian families are experiencing new challenges brought by “globalization, which does not take into account local values, new views on sexuality like gender theory and the marginalization of the Christian vision of life.”

Gender theory usually refers to the idea that what constitute male and female characteristics are largely social and cultural constructs rather than being determined by biology.

Responding to Irina, Pope Francis said, “You mentioned a great enemy of marriage: gender theory,” but he did not elaborate.

Instead, he insisted Catholic clergy and faithful must do everything possible to assist couples experiencing difficulty. “Welcome, accompany, discern, integrate,” he said. “The Catholic community must help to save marriages.”

A seminarian identified only by his first name, Kote, asked Pope Francis how Georgian Catholics can promote better relations with the Orthodox.

“Let’s leave it to the theologians to study the things that are abstract,” the pope said. The question everyone else should be asking is: “What must I do with a friend who is Orthodox?”

The answer is fairly simple, he said. “Be open, be a friend.”

“You must never proselytize the Orthodox,” the pope said. “They are our brothers and sisters, disciples of Jesus Christ, but complex historic situations have made us like this,” separated for more than a millennium.

“Friendship. Walk together, pray for each other, and do works of charity together when you can,” he said. “This is ecumenism.”

From the meeting at the Church of the Assumption near the center of town, Pope Francis went to Temka, a much poorer neighborhood on the outskirts of Tbilisi. He visited a clinic and rehabilitation center run by the Order of St. Camillus that is set in the midst of towering, flaking concrete apartment blocks from the Soviet era.

Before the pope arrived, local children, some with professional-level talents, sang and danced for the crowd. But, no matter the skill level, everyone was rewarded with thundering applause.

Staff and volunteers of from Caritas Georgia and the Missionaries of Charity sisters who care for the patients with more severe handicaps joined the Camillian fathers and their benefactors in welcoming the pope.

Pope Francis told those facing physical challenges, “God never turns away; he is always close to you, ready to listen, to give you his strength in times of difficulty.

“You are the beloved of Jesus, who wished to identify himself with all who suffer,” the pope said.

To the staff and volunteers, Pope Francis said works of service and charity are “a witness to communion and a means of fostering the way of unity.”

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Pope encourages Azerbaijan’s small Catholic community

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Catholic News Service

BAKU, Azerbaijan — Catholics cannot economize when it comes to spending time in prayer with God and in service to other people, Pope Francis told members of Azerbaijan’s tiny Catholic community.

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baku, Azerbaijan, Oct. 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baku, Azerbaijan, Oct. 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Arriving in the predominantly Shiite Muslim nation Oct. 2 after two days in neighboring Georgia, the pope went directly from the airport to Azerbaijan’s only Catholic Church, the parish of the Immaculate Conception.

Officials said about 300 people, more than half the number of Catholics in the entire country, were in the church for the Mass. Reflecting the backgrounds of members of the congregation, the prayers and readings at the Mass were in Azeri, English and Russian. The responsorial psalm, a chant in Azeri, was accompanied by the lilting tune of a tutek, a type of flute.

In improvised remarks at the end of Mass, Pope Francis said some people might think he was wasting his time traveling so far to visit such a small community, but the first Christian community visited by the Holy Spirit, Mary and the disciples, was even smaller.

The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the courage to live and share their faith with others, the pope said, and he visited Baku to encourage the Catholic community. “Courage,” the pope told them in Italian. “Go ahead,” he said in English.

Reading his homily in Italian, Pope Francis told the parishioners that, like the threads of a traditional Azeri rug, their beauty and usefulness as a Catholic community come only from being woven together. “Stay united always, living humbly in charity and joy,” he said.

Preaching on the Sunday Mass readings, the pope told them that while faith is a gift from God, it is something they must feed and nurture.

Faith “is no magic power which comes from heaven,” he said, and “it is not a special force for solving life’s problems.”

If faith were only something useful for satisfying one’s own needs, it would be selfish, the pope said.

He said faith is lived in service. “When faith is interwoven with service, the  heart remains open and youthful, and it expands in the process of doing good.”

Christians are called to serve others not as the price of purchasing some kind of reward from God, he said, but as an essential part of imitating Christ.

“Service is thus a way of life, indeed it recapitulates the entire Christian way of life: serving God in adoration and prayer; being open and available; loving our neighbor with practical deeds; passionately working for the common good,” Pope Francis said.

Even the best Christians, he said, can be tempted to allocate to God and others only “a percentage of their time and their own heart, never spending too much, but rather always trying to economize.”

The other danger, he said, is a temptation to be “over active,” thinking that the more one does the more important one becomes. “In such cases service becomes a means and not an end,” because the goal is prestige and power, not selfless service.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Georgian Orthodox patriarch welcomes Pope Francis to Tbilisi

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Catholic News Service

TBILISI, Georgia — Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.

Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport Sept. 30 and welcomed him to the patriarchal palace after the pope’s meeting with the Georgian president.

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.

More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.

In the 1980s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.

Small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the pope’s visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.”

The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.

Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.

While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”

Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”

Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”

“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”

While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome, the papacy, was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”

“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”

“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.

The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”

Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”

The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.

“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.

When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”

Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Pope pleas on behalf of 250,000 Aleppo residents trapped without food, water

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As a brief cease-fire agreement failed and Syrian government forces returned to bombing Aleppo and fighting rebels in the city streets, Pope Francis made a forceful appeal for assistance for the thousands of innocent civilians trapped in the besieged city.

Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital Sept. 27 after an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. More than 200 airstrikes bombarded the city since Sept. 24, leaving more than100 civilians dead, with hundreds more injured, according to the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. (CNS photo/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital Sept. 27 after an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. More than 200 airstrikes bombarded the city since Sept. 24, leaving more than100 civilians dead, with hundreds more injured, according to the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. (CNS photo/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

“I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombardments,” Pope Francis said at the end of his weekly general audience Sept. 28. “They will have to account to God.”

Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed by the bombardments in late September and the U.N. World Food Program said it was “extremely concerned about the more than 250,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo city who are cut off from food, water, medicine and other essential supplies.”

Pope Francis told people gathered for his general audience that his thoughts and prayers were going “to the beloved and martyred Syria. I continue to receive dramatic news about the fate of Aleppo’s population.”

Expressing his “profound pain and deep concern for what is happening in this already martyred city,” the pope told people that it is a place where death strikes “children, the elderly, the sick, young people, old people, everyone.”

“I renew my appeal that everyone make a commitment with all their strength to the protection of civilians as a mandatory and urgent obligation,” the pope said.

Pope Francis spoke as representatives of dozens of Catholic charitable organizations and leaders of Catholic communities in Syria and Iraq were arriving in Rome for a Sept. 29 meeting to coordinate Catholic emergency and humanitarian assistance to the victims of war, displaced people and refugees in the region.

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which coordinates Catholic charitable giving, said the Catholic Church and Catholic charities have 12,000 workers trying to provide care for people in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries.

“Just in Syria the victims of the war, according to U.N. data, already exceed 270,000,” he said. More than 8.7 million Syrians have been forced from their homes and some 3.4 million Iraqis are still displaced.

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