VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has donated $100,000 to help the people of Syria.
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s charity promotion and coordinating office, announced March 31 that the pope made the donation to fund “the charitable work of the local church in Syria supporting the population” that has been hit by the ongoing violence in the country.
The council’s secretary, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, was to personally deliver the aid March 31 and meet with Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, as well as other local church leaders.
In predominantly Muslim Syria, the Catholic Church helps all people in need through its charitable organizations but is particularly active in the area of Homs and Aleppo, the council said in a press release.
The pope also earmarked the collection to be taken up at his Holy Thursday evening Mass April 5 for use for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
Syria’s government has been fighting a yearlong uprising inspired by pro-democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The United Nations says thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, and thousands more have been detained and displaced.
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican’s delegate to the Arab League, participated in the “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting April 1 in Istanbul. The “friends” are a group of more than 80 countries that have been trying to coordinate their concrete support for political change in Syria.
The archbishop told the gathering that since the group first met in February “there has been a most alarming increase in violence, with an indiscriminate use of force, which has not spared inhabited areas, bringing about loss of lives among civilians and considerable damage to property.”
“The victims of this violence must not be forgotten,” he told the world leaders. “It is imperative that humanitarian aid reach all those in need and, for this, immediate access without restrictions must be assured.”
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is serving as the U.N. and Arab League’s special envoy to Syria, told the U.N. Security Council April 1 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to a cease-fire beginning April 10. In the meantime, leaders of the International Red Cross were in Damascus in early April trying to negotiate a daily two-hour pause in the fighting in order to deliver aid.