Vatican City, Nov 17, 2016 / 08:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a meeting with the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East Thursday, Pope Francis criticized ongoing violence in Iraq and Syria, saying no motive can justify or allow the killing of innocent people, especially children.
Asking the Lord for the “gift of peace,” the Pope said he was “dismayed by what continues to happen in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.”
“There, upon hundreds of thousands of innocent children, women and men is poured the terrible violence of bloody conflicts, which no motive can justify or allow,” he said.
In Iraq and Syria, he said, “our Christian brothers and sisters, as well as various religious and ethnic minorities, are unfortunately accustomed to suffer great trials every day.”
“In the midst of so much pain, of which I implore the end, every day we see Christians who walk the way of the cross meekly following the footsteps of Jesus.”
Pope Francis met with Mar Gewargis III, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East Nov. 17, praising God for the “fraternal bonds” which exist between them and the “significant steps” which have already been made in strengthening dialogue.
His comments came as a three-week halt in airstrikes, declared by the government’s ally Russia, ended Nov. 15. With government airstrikes over Aleppo raining down again, at least 32 people, including several children, have been killed over the last two days, the BBC reports.
A children’s hospital, blood bank, and ambulance in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been reported hit, with at least 21 people, five children and one emergency worker killed. The Independent Doctors Association reported that the hospital was severely damaged with some people trapped in the basement.
The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people, and forced 4.8 million to become refugees, about half of them children. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.
“These brothers and sisters,” the Pope said in his speech, “are models that encourage us in all circumstances to remain with the Lord, to embrace his cross, to trust in his love.”
“We show that the center of our faith is always the presence of Jesus, who invites us, even in adversity, never to tire of living his message of love, reconciliation and forgiveness.”
We learn this, Francis continued, from the martyrs of before and also of today, who “remain faithful to the Lord” even at the cost of their life, and with God “overcome evil with good.”
In his message to the Pope, Patriarch Mar Gewargis III said their meeting would be “a source of spiritual joy and encouragement” to the Christians of Iraq and Syria “in the midst of their suffering and pain, which unites them to the suffering and pain of Christ.”
Their suffering, caused by the “difficult and dire circumstances in which they live,” has caused many of them to leave the land of their ancestors, he said.
“In these countries are the roots of human civilization and the first Christian Churches, whose light shined on these peoples in the second half of the first century, through the missionary activity of the blessed apostles of our Lord.”
“In the midst of so much suffering, our ancient Christian communities of the East in general, and our Assyrian Christian community in particular, continued to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ, even paying with their blood.”
“We are grateful to these brothers,” the Pope said in his speech, “that impel us to follow the way of Jesus to defeat enmity.”
Just as the blood of Christ was “shed for love, reconciled and united, making fruitful the Church,” he said, “thus the blood of martyrs is the seed of unity of Christians. It calls us to devote ourselves with fraternal charity for communion.”