On 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis, during the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square, blessed 6,000 rosaries destined for Syria. They will be given to people in Syria who have had relatives or family members abducted or murdered during the civil war. This is part of an ecumenical initiative of the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) together with Catholic and Orthodox churches in the country.
“The rosaries, made on the initiative of ACN, are a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria,” Pope Francis said. “We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and around the world.”
The plan is to distribute the rosaries among a number of different Christian communities in Syria on 15 September, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The motto of the ecumenical initiative is “Comfort my people”, and aims to commemorate the victims of the recent civil war and offer spiritual support and comfort to the bereaved.
An earlier meeting with the Pope at the Vatican guesthouse Santa Marta, was attended by the Executive President of ACN, Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, as well as several directors of European ACN-national office. At the audience, Pope Francis praised the work of the charity and this ecumenical initiative: “I thank ACN for everything you do. When we pray with the people in Syria, we come close to them. “
ACN President Thomas Heine Geldern said he was deeply moved by the Pope’s support for this prayer campaign. “The Holy Father has on several occasions expressed his support and approval for our commitment in Syria and the Middle East”, he said. “And he has done so again today. For the families of the war victims, these blessed rosaries are a sign that the Pope and the entire Church are with them, praying for them and standing beside them. This is a great source of comfort.”
Ever since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the support for the suffering people of Syria has been a priority for ACN, as President Heine-Geldern emphasised.
Thanks to the generosity of ACN’s benefactors, the charity has been able during this time to support a total of 850 separate projects for the Syrian people, at a total cost of 35 million Euros, thereby enabling many Christian families to remain in Syria, rather than emigrating.
From the outset, this help has been offered in close ecumenical collaboration with Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders – and the same is true of the present, most recent initiative, the ACN president explained. “Money is not enough”, he said. “Alongside material aid, the people in Syria need spiritual and moral support, for they are living through a desperate situation. Together with our benefactors around the world, ACN is committed to helping them.”
The “Comfort my People” initiative will take place in a number of different towns in Syria on 15 September this year.
There will be commemorative prayers and processions, the Christian faithful will pray for the dead and for the consolation and support of their families. Those who have lost family members who were abducted or killed during the war will be given the rosaries, which were made in Bethlehem and Damascus and blessed by Pope Francis as a special sign of spiritual support. And on 15 September Pope Francis will again associate himself with the initiative, by blessing an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows, Comforter of the Syrians.
Tobias Lehner (ACN International)