The collection taken at Pope Benedict XVI’s evening Mass on Holy Thursday will go to support humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees.

The collection is “a very generous gesture by the Pope towards the immense suffering of our people, who also live the consequences of the embargo,” Samir Nassar, the Maronite archbishop of Damascus, told Fides news agency.

“It is a gesture of closeness and solidarity that has a strong meaning for us in this Lenten time and of great suffering: It makes the universal Church feel closer to its faithful in difficulty,” the archbishop continued.

The collection will take place during Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The pontifical council Cor Unum will send the collected money to Caritas Syria.

More than 20,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict between rebel and government forces have crossed the border with Lebanon.

“Over the past two days we have welcomed 100 other families, and the flow of refugees does not stop,” Father Simon Faddoul, president of Caritas Lebanon, told Fides recently.

“The situation is worsening dramatically, and we are already in full emergency. Our volunteers do their utmost to be close to people, who arrive exhausted and psychologically tired.”

The priest said the Pope’s help is “a wonderful initiative, which encourages us a lot.”

“We thank the Holy Father and his collaborators for their tenderheartedness,” Father Faddoul said. “The Pope is close to all those suffering in the world and is close to the drama of the Syrian people. We hope and pray that the suffering of the Syrian people soon comes to an end.”

Archbishop Nassar also stressed the need for peace.

“We keep in mind and we hope that the messages sent by Benedict XVI for a ceasefire, peace, dialogue, freedom in Syria are fulfilled,” he said.

The Syrian government has accused insurgents of terrorism and international conspiracy, while the government itself faces accusations of torture and massacres of civilians. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Violence in the major Syrian city of Homs has driven 50,000 Christians from their homes, amid reports that their houses have been attacked and seized by extremists with links to the terrorist group al Qaeda. On March 18 a car bomb exploded near a church in the Catholic quarter of Aleppo.

There are fears that Syria could become a second Iraq, with church attacks, kidnappings and forced expulsions of believers.
Government shelling of towns is also severely worsening the refugee crisis.

President Bashar Assad has accepted an Iran-backed peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to barracks, though that plan has not won the
agreement of Assad’s opposition.

The United States, Germany and the Arab League have called for an end to the violence, as has U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.