Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria - © Servizio Fotografico - Vatican Media

As part of a spiritual initiative by ACN to comfort the grieving

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria
Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria – © Servizio Fotografico – Vatican Media

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. “

Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria
Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries for Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

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)

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”

Summer camps in Syria – “She felt her heart had begun to beat again”
Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

In the course of 2019 the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is supporting over 40 different projects for summer activities on behalf of the Christian communities in countries where they are a minority, experience discrimination or suffering as a result of wars or other conflicts.

Almost half these projects are for the Christian communities in the Middle East, above all in Syria, where a total of 28 such summer courses will be held for young people and families.

After a bloody and fratricidal war, which has resulted today in a critical economic and social situation, Christians of various different faith communities from the dioceses of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus have been or will be gathering together between June and September to recuperate, gain new strength and find healing for past trauma.

Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

Father Antoine Mukhallala, of the Greek Melkite diocese of Aleppo, has just returned from one of the eight summer courses that are being organised by the Faith and Life Community for handicapped people and their families. It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend what these people suffered during the war.

Terrorised by the bombings and by the snipers, who killed civilians for no reason whatsoever, they scarcely dared emerge from their homes. Today these people have great need of psychological support and a need to encounter God to find peace through prayer amid nature. Hence the summer camps are a ray of light for them in this situation.

Among the many things Father Antoine has encountered, there is one story in particular he wants to tell ACN about.

It concerns a widow, the mother of two little girls, one of whom is autistic.

This mother was suffering terribly, because she had lost her husband when he attempted to emigrate in one of the “ships of death” to Europe.

Not because he drowned, however, but because he was murdered, and she had to witness his body being returned to her with his throat cut.

This woman was suffering greatly, yet living imprisoned in her solitude. Although physically present among the rest of the group, she barely spoke, either about her dead husband or her daughter. She rejected every kind of happiness, even though the others tried to reach her in her pain.

Little by little, however, during the summer camp week, a sense of love began to return to this woman’s heart; the darkness began to lift from it and it began to beat again with love. She began to realise once more that life is beautiful – partly thanks to the dramatic change in the behaviour of her autistic daughter, who even invited me to dance with her!

At the end of the week, this mother said to us, “If only the camp had lasted another week, I’m quite sure that my Jenny would even have begun to speak!”

I have been involved in many summer camps during my six years as a priest, but this most recent one in Kfarsetta with the “Family of Hope” was one of the most beautiful of all, in which I experienced the joy of Love and of which I can say that I received more than I gave”, Father Antoine continues. 

“I give thanks to God for what this woman experienced and for having been given the opportunity to live many such spiritual experiences. And I also want to thank you all, the representatives and benefactors of ACN, for having supported these camps, for without your support we could never have had this experience, which has brought us so much closer to the advertised theme of the summer camp, which was “Building community, with God”.

I pray to Almighty God that he may bless you all so that you can continue helping all those who call upon you and that you may continue being an instrument of God in spreading his Love throughout the world”, he concludes.

This summer many other groups of children, young people and families, like the “Family Hope”, will be taking part in similar summer camps, not only in other parts of Syria but also in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Crimea and the Republic of Congo, so that they can relax, recuperate and find new strength, not merely physically and psychologically, but also spiritually.

Summer camps in Syria – Aid to the Church in Need

Maria Lozano (ACN International)

The new “Nazarenes” of the Valley of the Christians

Working through the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping thousands of displaced Syrians each month

 

Nasra is one of the 20 or more villages belonging to the region known as the Valley of the Christians (Wadi Al-Nasara, in Arabic). The word Nasra literally means “Nazarene”, the word used throughout the Arab and Muslim world to refer to Christians. For several years now around a hundred refugee families have been living in this little village, having fled here from other parts of Syria to escape the war. The Mussa family is just one of these families, the new “Nazarenes” of the Valley of the Christians.

 

Marwan Mussa is the father of the family. “We were forced to flee from Homs, where we were living, because the bombing was getting closer and closer to our quarter of the city. The noise of the bombing and the shelling was shattering. We did not know whether from one day to the next we would die in these attacks, as had already happened to some of our neighbours”, he explains. And so they decided to leave for the Valley of the Christians which was just an hour’s drive away and where things were safer. They managed to find a small apartment where they could live for the time being until the fighting ended.

 

However, the war continued and the Mussa family have now been living in Nasra for over five years. “I used to work as a bricklayer, but now I am helping in a bakery, although I do not earn enough to support us all”, Marwan adds. His family is one of the more than 350 receiving support from the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in the Melkite Catholic parish of Saint Peter’s in the nearby village of Marmarita. “The Church has literally saved our lives, if it were not for the Church we wouldn’t be here”.

 

One day, nine months earlier, Marwan was working in an orchard near his house when he suddenly collapsed, unconscious. His son Gabi managed to pick him up and take him to the health centre in the village. From there they took him to the hospital in Tartus, on the coast, more than an hour away by car. “I felt an intense pain in my chest”, Marwan explains to a visiting group from ACN. The diagnosis was a serious one: he had had a severe heart attack. However, they were unable to treat him in the hospital in Tartus, so they sent him to a hospital in Homs, another two hours round trip.

 

“The doctors told me it was a miracle I had survived the operation, since my arteries were 90% obstructed. They inserted stents, and now I feel quite well, although I have to be careful not to over exert myself”. Marwan is continuing his treatment and regularly goes for checkups to Mzeina Hospital, also located in the Valley of the Christians.

 

“My wife, Nahila, is also undergoing treatment there for cancer”, says Marwan. All the medication and the medical care she receives are being supplied by ACN, via the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita. “We are extremely grateful for this help. We knew that many people from different countries were sending help for the centre here. We also want to thank the team of volunteers at Saint Peter’s for accompanying and helping us in our most urgent need”, he adds.

 

Nahila Murad, his wife and the mother of their family, has a gaze of crystalline clarity. She nods in agreement with every word spoken by her husband. “I have bowel cancer. They are helping us to pay for my treatment. When the doctors discovered my tumour they didn’t hold out much hope for me. But I am a woman of strong faith and so I told them to go ahead and operate on me , and now I am feeling better.” They both assured us that they do not know how to thank ACN for the 130 dollars they receive each month to pay for their medication and consultations.

 

The faith of these true “Nazarenes” is apparent. Nahila tells us how the worst moment they experienced was when they told her that her other son Dani was missing. “We had to get through two years without hearing anything about him. We thought he must have been killed on the front. But then a month ago he came to see us and it was like a fresh miracle of God here in our house.” Dani told them that he had always kept a small Bible close by, from which he read a passage every day. “He never departed from the Word of God, and now we know that the Lord did not abandon him either”, she explains.

 

Through the intermediary of the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) provides monthly help to hundreds of displaced Christian families throughout the region of the Valley of the Christians in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. The monthly aid of 50,000 US dollars provided by the charity helps to cover the cost of surgical operations, medication and other forms of medical treatment and aid, including examinations, wheelchairs and spectacles.

 

SYRIA/NATIONAL 18/00390 Emergency Financial Support in the Valley of Christians: Health Care – July/December 2018 ID1803576 –  286.800 € (300.000 USA $)

 

Photo: Nahila, Gabi and Marwan Mussa

ACN International

Syria – ACN embarks on reconstruction programme in Aleppo

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is sponsoring 32 new projects in Syria, at a total cost of 1.8 million Euros, for the restoration of the material and spiritual life of the Christian population there.

  • Children, women and the sick will be among the first to benefit from the aid programmes
  •  Among the seven reconstruction projects for the physical infrastructure of Aleppo, one of the cities most damaged during the war, there are three cathedrals

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is embarking on a programme of reconstruction and restoration in Aleppo, one of the cities that suffered most from the consequences of the war. Among the seven projects for the physical reconstruction of the city there are three involving Catholic cathedrals, namely the Armenian, Maronite and Syrian Catholic cathedrals. These three cathedrals not only represent the riches of the Eastern Rites in Aleppo, but are at the same time a symbol of the Christian roots of the city.

“The churches are like lighthouses in the ocean; they are a source of security and hope, and are but one of the first steps towards encouraging the return of the uprooted Christians here – as ACN well knows, having been so involved in the reconstruction of the towns and villages destroyed by IS in Iraq”, emphasises Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the project section responsible for Syria at the international headquarters of the foundation. Last year ACN also sponsored the reconstruction of the Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Homs.

In addition to supporting two parish community centres and a biblical study centre, ACN has promised help to complete the renovation work on a centre for autistic children which has been run by Franciscan missionary sisters for the past 21 years. The building is very damp due to the breakdown of the heating system during the war, and poses a real danger to the health of the 15 children cared for daily there.

All this is being done on top of the ongoing aid programmes for the hundreds of displaced families that ACN has been supporting from the very beginning of the conflict in 2011 in Aleppo and in other cities such as Homs and Latakia. “Although we would like these families to be able to return to their homes and be able to begin a new life, there is still a good deal to be done in order to make this possible. And meanwhile we cannot cut off our aid, since the local churches cannot take on this burden. According to UNHCR some 13.1 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance today. “Those who are suffering most are the poorest”, Father Halemba explains. That is why ACN will be spending two thirds of the 1.8 million Euros allocated on renewed emergency aid packages. These will include among other things paying the rent for 340 families in Homs, providing medical assistance for around 700 people in Aleppo and a monthly allowance for food and healthcare over the next six months for 1,725 of the poorest families in Latakia.

Along with these 32 projects recently approved, the number of projects that the international foundation ACN is carrying out in Syria in 2018 now totals 121 valued at almost 7 million euros.

“The suffering is not over yet!”, Father Halemba insists. “We face massive challenges simply in easing the terrible wounds inflicted over the past eight years, and at the same time we cannot forget that the future of these people lies in our hands and that we have a responsibility towards them.”

 

ACN International

SYRIA: “We have to rebuild the country. Simply wanting to return is not enough.”

Under the leadership of Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus and with the support of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a delegation from the Family Commission of the Syrian Bishops’ Conference (1) was able to participate in the World Meeting of Families in Dublin from August 21 to 26. Taking advantage of this occasion, Maria Lozano and Pierre Macqueron interviewed members of the delegation about the situation in the country. Denouncing the war in their country as “the cruellest tragedy in history since World War II,” the participants describe the difficulties faced by Syrian families, dispersed, traumatized and ruined after eight years of war.

 

What is the situation in Syria at the present time? 

 

Archbishop Samir Nassar: What is happening in Syria is an international war, it is not merely a local conflict – in fact 85 countries are involved in this war! It is the most brutal crisis in history since the Second World War. Since April we have begun to witness something of a return to peace. Bombs are no longer falling in Damascus. The problem? Our young people have been fleeing the country ever since 2015, and now we are waiting and hoping for them to return. We are doing everything we can to help those who have stayed on, including helping the families, most of which have been split up. Our mission is to help the people to stay on and to help those who have left to return again, together with their families. A great deal remains to be done to rebuild the country after eight years of war.

 

Sister Jihane Elaoudatallah: We have come through some extremely difficult times. A few months ago, in my school in Damascus, a bomb fell, killing one of our female teachers. Another bomb fell in the grounds of the school, but fortunately it did not injure anyone. Later on a bomb killed one of the children and badly injured another, who had to have his leg amputated. The children were deeply traumatised and no longer wanted to go to school. For them, going to school meant going to their deaths. We had to go through a long process of reconciliation in order to overcome this psychological barrier. To do so we organised spiritual exercises in a remote and quiet place for those families who had been through really traumatic situations. A Jesuit priest spoke to them about the Christian life, about how to live through their fears together with the children. And we also studied the encyclical Laudato Si’. As a result, the families involved asked us to organise these meetings on a regular basis, and so we now have a meeting every month to pray, reflect and also eat and relax together.

 

Jean-Pierre Bingly: All the families, whether they are Muslims, Druze or Christians, have been similarly affected by the war and have to face the same problems. Their children have died in the war, or have emigrated… So now we have to rebuild our families and do whatever we can to make things better.

 

Father Raymond Girgis: I think we can say that the situation is now one of normality and peace in Damascus itself. The Church has recommenced its everyday pastoral work. In our own monastery we have 230 children receiving catechesis, and we also have the retirement home for the elderly… The Church is continuing to provide material and spiritual support. Throughout the whole of this time of war, in addition to helping the sick and the poor, we have continued to help through our work in the family apostolate and through providing spiritual support.

 

Is it possible for the Syrian refugees to return now?

 

Archbishop Samir Nassar: For years Syria has been a place of refuge – for the Armenians in the 1920s, for the Assyrians, the Kurds, the Lebanese, the Iraqis… However, the Syrian refugees themselves were not made altogether welcome in many parts of the world. They are so many, too many. Nobody wants to welcome them. But now, returning to Syria is also complicated, above all for economic reasons.

 

Father Raymond Girgis: Many families are thinking of returning, especially the Christian families. The way in which these families have been split up is a wound in the Church. To say nothing of all the psychological problems that the war has left behind and which we as the Church now have the task of healing.

 

Sister Jihane Elaoudatallah: Besides, with their houses demolished, where can they return to? How do you go back to a bombed-out house? On its own, the desire to return is not enough.

 

Marie Nasrallah: And even more so now that the devaluation of the currency makes is still harder to return to Syria. Daily life has become very expensive now.

 

Does the economic blockade on Syria pose problems for the return of the Syrian people?

 

Archbishop Samir Nassar: We are facing grave economic problems, because the value of our currency has fallen. Before the war, one US dollar was equal to 50 Syrian pounds, whereas now it is equivalent to 515! Yet meanwhile, people’s wages are the same as they were before. Syrians living abroad would be able to help us, but this is not possible owing to the Western sanctions. Those measures were taken against the Syrian government, but they only cause suffering to the poor, while the members of the government have other sources of income. Those who are really paying the consequences are the poor.

 

Sister Jihane Elaoudatallah: This situation only exacerbates the sufferings of the people, who have already been scattered and humiliated. Humiliated by having to ask for help, above all now that the sanctions have made it still harder to get help. For the families especially, the additional burden this places on them in bringing up their children is an enormous one.

 

Father Raymond Girgis: The sanctions are not bringing any positive results. There is a shortage of medicines in Syria; you cannot obtain them. These measures aren’t aimed at saving the people but are simply condemning them to go on living in a prison.

 

One last word?

 

Archbishop Samir Nassar: When Pope Francis speaks about our country, he speaks of “our beloved Syria”. He knows Syria, because there is a large community of Syrian emigres in Argentina. The Episcopal Family Commission would like to thank ACN, because you have helped us enormously in recent years – to support the families in need, to provide medicines for the sick, to continue with our pastoral work. But now we still need financial resources in order to rebuild our bombed out houses, in order to rebuild our country.

Since the beginning of the conflict, ACN has granted more than 25 million euros for emergency projects to Christian families in Syria, including almost 6 million in 2017. Currently the foundation is preparing a new campaign to help the reconstruction of the country and the return of the refugees in the coming months.

(1) Archbishop Samir Nassar, Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, was accompanied by Franciscan Father Raymond Girgis, Superior of the monastery of the Conversion of Saint Paul in Tabbaleh in Damascus, Sister Jihane Elaoudatallah of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, and a married couple, Jean-Pierre Bingly and Marie Nasrallah, who have been married for 24 years and are likewise members of the Family Commission.

 

ACN International

The 300 Christians of Krak des Chevaliers, a World Heritage Site

Father George Maamary, parish priest of the church of the Assumption, which is close to the fortress, is asking our help to rebuild their church so that the families can return there soon.

ACN (Josué Villalón, Qalat’al Hosn).- Qalat’al Hosn is a village in western Syria in a region known as the Valley of the Christians, best known for the imposing fortress the Krak des Chevaliers, which dominates the area. The castle is a World Heritage Site, one of the historic jewels of Syria and a place which before the war attracted tourists from all over the world.

“A group of Salafists and Muslim extremists arrived here, many of them from Lebanon, crossing over the border, which is only about 30 km (20 miles) away. They seized control of the fortress and the village”, explains Father George Maamary, parish priest of the local Catholic community. “As soon as they arrived, they came to the church where I was living, forced their way in and abducted me. They beat me up, so thatafterwards I had to have an operation on my shoulder. Thanks be to God, my imprisonment did not last long; they exchanged me for a jihadist fighter who had been captured by the government.”

At that time the village had around 25,000 inhabitants of various different religions, most of them Sunni and Shia Muslims. There were also around 300 Christians, living around the only Christian church, that of Our Lady of the Assumption, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Church.

As soon as news of the abduction of Father Maamary came to the ears of his Christian neighbours, they all abandoned their homes for fear of suffering the same fate. “It was a warning. Since then not one Christian family has returned to live here.” That was six years ago.

The rebel groups had wanted to turn the fortress into a second Palmyra. A world-renowned historic site, and also one of great strategic and sentimental importance for the Syrian people. The fortress was damaged by the rebel groups and by the fighting to recover it, along with a considerable part of the village itself. In 2014 the castle and the village were reconquered by the Syrian army. This was the only place in the Valley of the Christians where there was fighting. For the rest this region has become a place where many refugees now live, since it is one of the more peaceful parts of the country.

But before this there was looting, and among the places that were looted were the church and the homes of the Christians. “The life of the community used to revolve around the church”, Father George explains to a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We had a basketball pitch and rooms for catechesis and other gatherings. You can see how everything is now”, he adds. The church is also linked to various other buildings, and there was formerly a hotel named after John Paul II, which welcomed tourists who had come to visit the fortress. They also had other centres, with up to 17 shops, a restaurant, a cafe, and various souvenir and gift shops.

After the fighting, the conflict continued. The vengeance against the Sunnis was terrible on the part of the government troops, linked to the Assad government and pro-Shiite. Father George had to hasten back and mark the houses of the Christians with black crosses, so that the soldiers did not burn them down also.

“Before the fighting, life between Christians and Muslims was good”, said Father George. Now the war has left a terrible wound that will take years to heal. “It is safe again now in this region, but there is still no electricity or water”, he adds. As a result the Christians have been unable to return, despite the fact that the village was liberated all of four years ago. “The sense of helplessness of these families is very great; they are still uprooted and living in other villages of the Valley of the Christians, such as Marmarita and Kafra, only 10 km away from here, and yet they still cannot return.”

Around the church of the Assumption there are a few houses that people have begun to rebuild. One of them belongs to the family of Bassam Maamary, a cousin of Father George and himself a priest. “I have begun to rebuild the house with my own money, in order to show my neighbours that it is possible to return, that there is still hope”, he says.

He is being helped with the electric wiring by a young man named Wagdi Yazzi. He too is from the village of Al Hosn. “It won’t take much for us to return; but first we need the government to reconnect the water and electricity”, he says, adding, “Life here was very pleasant and peaceful. We had contact with people from all over the world and we were a very open village.”

Another neighbour appears, walking up an alleyway. He is Samir Bashur and he explains that he is also working on his house and that he comes here from time to time, little by little repairing the damage. He thinks that if people are to return here permanently they will first have to rebuild the church. “It is a place that is very important to us, where we celebrate the most important feasts together, where we meet and pray together, along with our parish priest.”

Father George assures that he has not lost contact with the other families. “We are doing the impossible to help them on a daily basis, and so that they will be able to return to their homes.” He thanks ACN for the aid provided for the care of these refugees, and he is also hoping to be able to begin soon on the rebuilding of their church.

“We are praying for peace in our country. And also for all the people who are helping us from other countries. You are all very welcome to come here. We need the people and the tourists to return.”

And finally Father Maamary expresses his gratitude for the support of Pope Francis, who has sent aid directly each year for the families and the priests. “He is a humble man, he is doing great things for Syria, including through his prayer and his messages of peace.”

 

ACN International

Urbi et Orbi: Easter Message of Pope Francis (2017)

Screengrab from the official Facebook page of Radio Vaticana

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Happy Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church echoes once more the astonishing message of the first disciples: “Jesus is risen!” – “He is truly risen, as he said!”

The ancient feast of Passover, the commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery, here finds fulfillment. By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death, and has opened before us the way to eternal life.

All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep. But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us. To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross. Today we can proclaim: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep, and willingly died for his flock, Alleluia” (Roman Missal, IV Sunday of Easter, Communion antiphon).

In every age, the Risen Shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion – the wounds of his merciful love – he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life. Today too, he places upon his shoulders so many of our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms.

The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization. He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.

He takes upon himself all those victimized by old and new forms of slavery, inhuman labor, illegal trafficking, exploitation and discrimination, and grave forms of addiction. He takes upon himself children and adolescents deprived of their carefree innocence and exploited, and those deeply hurt by acts of violence that take place within the walls of their own home.

The Risen Shepherd walks beside all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes. Everywhere he helps these forced migrants to encounter brothers and sisters, with whom they can share bread and hope on their journey.

In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace. May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.

Especially in these days, may he sustain the efforts of all those actively engaged in bringing comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria — the beloved and martyred Syria — prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death. Yesterday saw the most recent vile attack against refugees who were fleeing, which left many dead and wounded. May he grant peace to the entire Middle East, beginning with the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Yemen.

May the Good Shepherd remain close to the people of South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who endure continuing hostilities, aggravated by the grave famine affecting certain parts of Africa.

May the Risen Jesus sustain the efforts of all those who, especially in Latin America, are committed to ensuring the common good of societies marked at times by political and social tensions that in some cases have resulted in violence. May it be possible for bridges of dialogue to be built, by continuing to fight the scourge of corruption and to seek viable and peaceful solutions to disputes, for progress and the strengthening of democratic institutions in complete respect for the rule of law.

May the Good Shepherd come to the aid of Ukraine, still beset by conflict and bloodshed, to regain social harmony. May he accompany every effort to alleviate the tragic sufferings of those affected by the conflict.

The Risen Lord continues to shed his blessing upon the continent of Europe. May he grant hope to those experiencing moments of crisis and difficulty, especially due to high unemployment, particularly among young people.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!” May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.

Happy Easter!