Pope Francis blesses 6,000 rosaries, gifts to console Syrian families (an ACN sponsored initiative)

by Tobias Lehner

ON THE FEAST of the Assumption, August 15, Pope Francis, during the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square, blessed 6,000 rosaries destined for Syria. They will be given to Christians in Syria who have had relatives or family members abducted or murdered during the civil war. This is part of an ecumenical initiative by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in partnership with Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Syria.

“The rosaries, made at the initiative of ACN, are a sign of my closeness to our brothers and sisters in Syria,” Pope Francis said as part of his Angelus address, adding: “We continue to pray the Rosary for peace in the Middle East and around the world.” ACN arranged for the production of the rosaries in Bethlehem and Damascus.

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The Holy Father and Thomas Heine-Geldern, the Executive President of ACN International presenting the Pope the rosaries. © Servizio Fotografico - Vaticano

The plan is to distribute the rosaries among a number of different Christian communities in Syria on September 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The motto of the initiative is “Comfort my people;” the project aims to commemorate the victims of war and offer spiritual support and comfort to the bereaved.

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The rosaries will be given to people in Syria who have had relatives or family members abducted or murdered during the civil war. Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

Speaking earlier to an ACN delegation headed by the organisation’s Executive President Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, Pope Francis praised the work of ACN and the ecumenical initiative: “I thank ACN for everything you do. When we pray with the people in Syria, we become close to them.”

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Celebration Console my people. Families receiving the rosaries in the Greek Melkite Cathedral in Homs.
Photographer Lucia Wicki-Rentsc. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

“The Holy Father has on several occasions expressed his support and approval for our commitment in Syria and the Middle East,” said Dr. Heine-Geldern, “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.”

Since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011, support for suffering and persecuted Christians in Syria has been a priority for ACN. During this period, reported Dr. Heine-Geldern, ACN has funded 850 projects. The work has enabled numerous Christian families to stay in the country, rather than emigrating. However, “money is not enough”, he said, adding: “Alongside material aid, the people in Syria need spiritual and moral support, for they are in a desperate situation. Together with our donors around the world, ACN is committed to helping them.”

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"Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians" is a traditional iconographic presentation.
Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

On September 15, the “Comfort my People” initiative will take place in a number of cities in Syria. In each location there will be commemorative prayers and procession, to remember the dead and for the consolation and support of their families. That day, Pope Francis will again associate himself with the initiative by blessing an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows, Comforter of the Syrians.

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Fr. Spiridon Kabbash, Greek Orthodox priest from Homs in Syria, is the artist of the icon titled
"Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians” it depicts the Holy Mother of God as a Seat of Wisdom also known as Maria Regina. Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

Altogether some 2000 Christian families have lost one or more loved ones during the conflict and 800 had a family member abducted. Along with the rosaries, Bibles in Arabic, also donated by ACN, are being distributed, along with crosses made of olive wood from the Holy Land and blessed by Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ephraim III.

On several occasions Pope Francis has alluded to the ACN initiatives on behalf of the Martin Syrian people. On Sunday 2 December, after the Angelus, the Pope lit a candle as part of the ACN prayer campaign “Candles for Peace in Syria”.
Following the meeting in August, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Holy Father for his affectionate closeness, as always wherever there are tears to be dried, a sign of just how much the world needs compassion. He added that the feast of the Sorrowful Mother offered us a lesson of true and profound compassion and maternal tenderness. Mary suffers for Jesus, but at the same time she also suffers with Jesus, and the passion of Christ is a sharing in the whole of human suffering, he said.

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