Despite persecution and threats faced by the Catholic faithful in Syria, religious communities in the war-torn country have continued their initiatives to proclaim the message of the Gospel. On Oct. 31, some 50 men and women religious from 16 different congregations of consecrated life met in Damascus with Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, Vicar Apostolic of Aleppo, and Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria. “The meeting has been a valuable opportunity of consolation for everyone, which we have offered each other reciprocally,” Bishop Abou Khazen told Fides News Agency. “In situations like the ones we are going through, the love of God can be experienced in practice only if others can see it reflected in the love that we give to our brothers and sisters, with our limitations and weaknesses.” The meeting held at the Franciscan Monastery at Bab Tuma, in old Damascus, focused on the most urgent issues facing religious life in Syria, where a civil war ravaged the nation for more than three years. The secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Msgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, also took part in the meeting and listened to first-hand testimonies of the work religious men and women are carrying out in Syria. The meeting also provided an occasion to plan for the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life in Syria, which will be a time for communion and the rediscovering of their vocations, Bishop Khazen explained. “We have created a special committee for this purpose charged with putting into motion the initiatives that will mark the entire year,” he said. The Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis, begins on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, 2014, and ends Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated life. The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. There are 3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. An additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war. Christians, a minority in the nation, have been hard-pressed by the war, especially as Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and Islamic State have risen in prominence among the rebel groups. Last month, a Franciscan priest along with some of his parishioners was detained for a few days in Idlib province by militants linked to al-Nusra Front. One Jesuit was murdered in Homs in April, and another was abducted from Raqqa in July 2013. A group of Greek Orthodox nuns, with women from their convent's orphanage in Ma'loula, were kidnapped by al-Nusra Front in December 2013, and held for several months.
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