Monday, October 10, 2016

Msgr. Zenari, Cardinal in Damascus: Amid war and violence, Pope points to peace through diplomacy

The cardinal's biretta for the apostolic nuncio Pope Francis’  "beloved and tormented" Syria  testifies to the "value diplomacy" in a region engulfed  by war and violence, where "several embassies have closed in recent years", to send a signal saying "it is important to stay in this place".  

This is according to Msgr. Mario Zenari, Apostolic nuncio in Syria, yesterday appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, at the end of the Mass for the Marian Jubilee. A choice, the cardinal-designate continues, which confirms the Pope’s will to "keep diplomatic channels open”,  to resolve the conflict, "elevating" the value of the nunciature.
"Granting the dignity of Cardinal to an ambassador  - underlines Msgr. Zenari, unabashedly surprised by the Pope’s choice - has added value, in addition to the primary sense of the appointment. And it also confirms Pope Francis’ predilection for Syria, for the Christians of that land and all its people. "

Yesterday in St. Peter's Square, to the surprise of all those present, Pope Francis announced a new consistory on November 19, the eve of the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy. He will also create 17 new cardinals, including his diplomatic representative, Msgr. Mario Zenari, "who has remained, as nuncio in the beloved and battered Syria".

Magr. Mario Zenari was born in Villafranca di Verona on January  5, 1946.  On July 5, 1979 he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Verona. He holds a degree in Canon Law, and entered into the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1980, working in the papal representations in Senegal, Liberia, Colombia, Germany, Romania. On 25 March 1993 he was appointed Nunciature Advisor; the following year he was appointed permanent representative of the Holy See to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

 
He also held the post of permanent observer to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and at the Vienna International Centre. On July 12, 1999, John Paul II appointed him Apostolic Nuncio to the Ivory Coast and Niger (Burkina Faso and later). His episcopal ordination was celebrated on September 25. On 10 May 2004 he was appointed to Sri Lanka, where he remained until December 30, 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI named him apostolic nuncio in Syria.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the new prelate emphasizes the "exceptional nature" of this appointment "of a nuncio, who then keeps his job". This is a "sign", he adds, of the Pope’s "strong preference" for Syria "beyond my modest person. "An eloquent and strong gesture - he continues - at a time when the country is dying in such an atrocious manner ... A further reminder and thought for Syria, its poor people, the blood shed by innocent civilians, children: This honor is for them".

"The choice - says Msgr. Zenari - also has a political value and has not gone unnoticed in the eyes of the government in Damascus. It indicates a strengthening of the embassy and the Pope himself who, as he announced it made it clear that the nuncio remains in 'beloved and battered' Syria, giving a great significance to his words". It is said that the Pope looks to the suburbs, the cardinal-designate adds, but "Syria is not a periphery for the Pope, it is at the center of his thoughts".

The Vatican diplomat has received many messages, even from Syria, congratulations and best wishes "even if - he admits - I have not had time to read them all." Among the many he speaks of a phone call with the Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham, who is also the president of the church hierarchy in Syria. The news says Msgr. Zenari, I received "from my brother in law, over lunch at the conclusion of the parish Mass in my native country [Msgr. Zenari is currently in Italy, set to return to Syria mid-week]. At first I did not believe it ... ".

In recent months Msgr. Zenari met several times Pope Francis: one such occasion was the recent dinner with nuncios and cardinals in the Vatican, during which the pontiff asked that the apostolic nuncio in Syria sit at his table. "That night - says the prelate - the Holy Father recalled that already three years ago I was sitting at the same table, on the occasion of a dinner".  In reference to recent calls for Syria and, in particular, Aleppo, "the Pope replied that he felt he had to utter those words, and I also believe that he spoke off the cuff, leaving aside the official text ... When he talks about Syria, the Pope does so with his heart ! ".

"Being nuncio in Syria as a Cardinal - concluded Msgr. Zenari - and with such a strong support of the pontiff is both an honor and a burden. My mission receives an inestimable value. In Syria, there is still room for diplomacy, we have try everything to make openings. Even in the face of the most extreme positions, the vocation of diplomacy is to do the impossible. "

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