“I met Pope Francis two years ago in Rome. When I met him I asked him to do everything possible to protect Syria and he promised he would do everything he could do to protect Syria,” Sargi said after his family was introduced at a Sept. 25 news conference as one of six that was to receive a signed copy of the Gospel of Luke at the Sept. 27 Mass closing the World Meeting of Families.
Not only did the families get their own copy of Luke’s Gospel — that will be read throughout the jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis beginning Dec. 8 — but the are returning home with thousands of copies of Luke’s Gospel to distribute in their homeland.
“It is very important because we are the minority in our country. We are very proud that the church is thinking about us, not leaving us alone in this very dark situation,” Sargi said after the news conference.
Residents of Damascus, the Syrian capital, the Sargis have largely been spared by the impact of the country’s four-and-a-half year old civil war, which has caused thousands of Christians and Muslims to flee. He said that his family has decided to stay to ensure that a Christian presence remains in the war-wracked country.
The family includes wife and mother Rouba, daughter Leila, 14 and twin sons, Michael and Elias, who will turn 5 on the day of the Mass.
Sargi said missiles and mortars from the war occasionally fly over their neighborhood, scaring residents and causing children to cower. He sees no end in sight to hostilities unless negotiations take place among the warring factions.
“They harm people. They kill people for nothing,” he said.
“It’s very complicated and all the governments all over the world have to do something,” he added.
The Sargis were suggested to represent Syria at the Mass to World Meeting of Family organizers by Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who also was lead Vatican organizer of the World Meeting of Families, has sought names of families from prelates around the world.
Representing Australia at the Mass will be the family of Thomas and Tina Coorey and their children, Samuel, 13, Luke, 11, Christian, 9 and Gabrielle, 6, of Sydney.
The Cooreys attended the World Meeting of Families and learned from Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher Sept. 24 that they had been selected to represent the continent.
“I’m going to give (the gospels) to the people who need it the most. I want to give it to people who don’t have access to the word of God,” he said.
Other families chosen to receive Gospels from Pope Francis include Ernest and Tram Ong and six other family members of Vietnam; Juan Herrera and Jacqueline Martinez and their four children of Cuba; Sylvie and Christoph Davieau of France; and Willy Bongo-Pasi Moke Sangol and Marie-Claire Mukuasa Gipela of Congo.
Thousands of copies of Luke’s Gospel also will be distributed in each family’s home country.
As part of its commitment to Syria, the Vatican committed to providing 6,000 Syrian families with heating assistance during the upcoming winter.
Archbishop Paglia said at the news conference that the effort carries out the pope’s call for the church to look outward to the world rather than inward.
He said providing heating oil is just as important as providing the Gospels to nourish the faith.
“We can’t remain turned in on oneself,” he said. “This is the perspective for the church.”
The effort will be undertaken in a partnership with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Michael J. LaCivita, CNEWA communications director, told Catholic News Service the council wants to raise $2 million for the initiative. Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org or by calling (800) 442-6392.