VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appealed Sunday for the protection of women and children fleeing violence in northwestern Syria, as more than half a million people have been displaced in two months.
“Painful news continues to arrive from the northwest of Syria, in particular on the conditions of many women and children, people forced to flee due to military escalation,” Pope Francis said Feb. 9.
At least 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes since December during the Russian-backed Syrian government’s offensive in Idlib province, Syria’s last rebel-held territory, which borders Turkey.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 80% of those displaced have been women and children.
"This latest wave of displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idlib," David Swanson, spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian office, said Feb. 4.
Calling for peaceful negotiation and humanitarian protection, Pope Francis prayed a Hail Mary for Syrians threatened by the violence in Syria’s northwest.
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and to all the actors involved to make use of diplomatic instruments, dialogue and negotiations, in compliance with international humanitarian law, to safeguard the life and fate of civilians,” Pope Francis said during his Angelus address.
Pope Francis also called for prayer to eliminate “the plague” of human trafficking following the World Day of Prayer, Reflection and Action Against Trafficking in Persons, which occurs each year on the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, Feb. 8.
Human trafficking is a $150-billion business with 25 million victims worldwide, according to International Labor Organization statistics.
The Pope said “everyone’s commitment is needed” to end human trafficking’s exploitation of the weakest. “It's a real plague,” he said.
“In the face of violence, injustice, oppression, the Christian cannot close in on himself or hide in the safety of his own fence; even the Church cannot close in on herself. She cannot abandon her mission of evangelization and service,” Pope Francis said.
Francis prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to help each Catholic to be salt and light in the world, caring for the little ones and the poor and bringing the Good News of God’s love to everyone.
“The Church listens to the cry of the least and the excluded because she is aware of being a pilgrim community called to extend the salvific presence of Jesus Christ in history.”