VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican joined international appeals for raising money to provide emergency and long-term assistance to the millions of people affected by the crisis in Syria.
Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, attended the Syria Donors Conference in London Feb. 4 and said the Catholic Church would continue to help the region through its fundraising efforts. The Vatican released a copy of the archbishop's address the same day.
The meeting -- co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations -- was meant to gather together leaders from world governments and NGOs to raise funding and support to address the six-year-long humanitarian crisis.
The conference website said there are 13.5 million vulnerable and displaced people inside Syria, and 4.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries in need of assistance.
U.N. agencies have appealed for $8.4 billion to help those in Syria and refugees in host countries.
In his address, Archbishop Gallagher said the crisis in Syria was marked by "ever-increasing human suffering, including extreme cases of malnourishment of innocent children and other civilians, especially among the high number of people who are trapped in hard-to-reach and besieged areas."
Religious minorities, including Christians, "suffer disproportionately the effects of war and social upheaval in the region," he said.
"In fact, their very presence and existence are gravely threatened," he said, which is why "Pope Francis has repeatedly called attention to the particular needs of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East."
The Vatican and the Catholic Church have been responding to the crisis "from the very beginning" by providing not just "emergency aid but also the medium and long-term needs of refugees and host countries," he said, adding that the Vatican welcomes the conference's emphasis on providing education, jobs and economic development as part of aid programs.
Just last year, he said, Catholic dioceses, aid agencies and NGOs in partnership with governments and other international organizations provided $150 million in humanitarian assistance that directly benefited more than 4 million people. The assistance went to educational programs, food and nonfood aid, health care, housing, work programs and direct cash assistance.
Catholic agencies and entities, he said, "make no distinction regarding the religious or ethnic identity of those requiring assistance," but they do try to give priority to the most vulnerable and those most in need, which include religious minorities.