VATICAN CITY — The Vatican secretary of state told the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization that the planned peace mission to Syria will still happen but has been postponed following flare-ups in violence.
“Given the gravity of the situation, the visit will be postponed, probably until after the conclusion of the synod, and the composition of the delegation will be modified, also due to other commitments on the part of its members,” Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Oct. 23 at the synod.
Cardinal Bertone originally announced the papal delegation at an Oct. 16 session of the synod. It was scheduled to embark this week, ahead of the synod's conclusion on Oct. 28.
At that time, he said the delegation would include Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis, military ordinary of Colombia; and Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Phat Diem, Vietnam.
The most recent outbreak of violence in Syria happened Oct. 21, when a car bomb killed 13 people in Bab Touma, the district of Damascus mainly inhabited by Christians.
Pope Benedict XVI intends the delegates to “express his solidarity and that of the synod with the people of Syria who, unfortunately, have for some time been experiencing a tragic situation of suffering,” the cardinal said.
“The intention was also to express our spiritual closeness to our Christian brothers and sisters in that country and to encourage those committed to seeking a solution respectful of the rights and duties of all.”
Cardinal Bertone affirmed that the peace mission is still on — it will “travel to Damascus at the time and in the manner which will be announced after they have been defined in the light of the contacts and preparations currently under way.”
The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, with demonstrations against the country's president, Bashar al-Assad.
More than 33,000 people have been killed since the start of the civil war, according to anti-regime activists. The United Nations has registered more than 200,000 refugees who have fled from the violence to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
In recent weeks, the violence has spread into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.