Vatican aid chief visits Jordan before papal vote

The Vatican's top aid official and possible papal contender held high-level meetings in Jordan on Wednesday to assess Catholic relief work for Syrian refugees that has been hampered by ongoing violence.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, 67, of Guinea, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Pope Benedict XVI, whose resignation takes effect next week. He could be chosen if the conclave of fellow cardinals looks to Africa for the first time in the modern age. The papal electors will gather in Vatican City in March.

Sarah is president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which organizes Catholic relief activities worldwide. He was in Fuheis, a suburb of the Jordanian capital, Amman, to attend a regional meeting of the international Catholic relief agency, Caritas.

Sarah also met Syrian refugees and Jordan's King Abdullah II, who highlighted Jordan's efforts to provide humanitarian aid to about 368,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in the kingdom. He urged for concerted efforts to provide better services to displaced Syrians, according to the official Petra news agency.

Sarah and the Caritas delegation thanked Abdullah for Jordan's humanitarian assistance, saying they also valued the monarch's role in spreading the values of peace and tolerance.

The cardinal refrained from commenting directly on the Syrian crisis, which has prompted hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced internally and others fleeing to neighboring countries, such as Jordan.

But Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, who oversees Caritas in Jerusalem and Jordan, decried the spiraling violence.

"Fear God, you makers of war and death," he warned.

Caritas Syria representative, Monseigneur Antoine Audo, said the group has been able to distribute aid supplies, including blankets and other winter items, to about 5,000 Syrian families, but that violence makes it difficult to reach more.