Pope Francis holds an audience with students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania in Paul VI Hall June 7, 2013. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.

Pope Francis holds an audience with students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania in Paul VI Hall June 7, 2013. Credit: Lauren Cater/CNA.

VATICAN, June 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News).- Considering the plight of Christians in Syria and across the Middle East, Pope Francis advised aid agencies for Christians in the region to ground their work in prayer and the sacraments.

“I ask you to accompany me in uniting faith with charity … collaborate ‘in the faith and in the charity of Jesus Christ our God,’” the Bishop of Rome said at a June 20 audience with the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican’s Consistory Hall.

“Remembering,” he added, “that our work will be effective only if it is rooted in faith, nourished by prayer, especially by the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith and charity.”

The organization unites funding agencies from countries worldwide in order to provide services such as houses of worship and study, scholarships, and social and health care facilities to struggling areas.

The Roman pontiff told the aid workers that charity is “the first testimony” offered by Christians, “and it is only in this way that all of our actions will bear fruit.”

The good works done by ROACO “must be a profession of the love of God that constitutes the Christian identity,” he emphasized.

The pontiff also praised the perseverance of Eastern Catholics who have “faced every difficulty for the Christian name” and have “kept the faith.”

He then appealed to the leaders of nations and to all men and women of goodwill to “put an end to all suffering, to all violence, to all religious, cultural and social discrimination.”

“To all those who suffer I say forcefully: never lose hope!”

Mindful of the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis said he was renewed in “the vivid ecclesial concern for so many brothers and sisters who live in a situation of insecurity and seemingly interminable violence which does not spare the innocent and most helpless.”

He then urged the committee to especially seek to help those suffering at the hands of violence in Syria, and asked them to remember Syria in their prayers.

“The beloved Syrian people . . . the ever increasing number of refugees and displaced persons,” he reflected.

The war in Syria has dragged on for 27 months, and claimed the lives of at least 93,000 people.

There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Jordan and Lebanon. An additional 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

The pope’s remarks were in keeping with the theme of the first day of the committee’s assembly, which was dedicated to the situation in Syria.

They were also reminiscent of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri’s comments at the Mass opening the meeting on June 18, in which the cardinal called to mind the suffering in Syria but also the witness of charity from Christians in the Middle East.

Cardinal Sandri serves as prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, as well as president of ROACO.

In addition to the grave situation in Syria, the conference also discussed the state of Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine.