Pope Francis called for dialogue and reconciliation in Syria on Saturday as he led a peace vigil in St Peter’s square and millions of Catholics worldwide were joined by other faiths in a day of fasting and prayer.
“In beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world, let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace,” the Pontiff told tens of thousands who had gathered in the Vatican for the four-hour event, with smaller gatherings held in churches, mosques and synagogues around the globe.
The Pope called for a “cry for peace” from humanity, firmly opposing all fighting including the military strikes against the Syrian regime being pushed by the United States and France.
“War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity,” he warned.
The Vatican called the vigil an unprecedented papal gesture for peace, by virtue of its scale and prominence of location. It took place the same day that US Secretary of State John Kerry met with European leaders to make President Barack Obama’s case for a military strike on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as punishment for the alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there.
Leading the crowd in prayer for peace in Syria, Pope Francis said that war is ultimately caused by selfishness, which can be overcome only through expressions of fraternity and never with violence.
“Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation,” the Pope said.
Dialogue and reconciliation are two essential means of mediation that seem to have been forgotten by some of the world’s super-powers in their apparent rush to wage war.
The ongoing suffering inflicted on the Syrian people is shocking and while US intentions may be good, fighting fire with fire can only ever serve to make situations worse.
The reported use of chemical weapons, an estimated 100,000 deaths, the displacement of millions from their homes all point to the devastation of the conflict in Syria.
What is urgently needed now is a negotiated ceasefire and political solution. Instead of arming both sides, the international community should be emphasising the need for diplomacy. The introduction of more arms simply aids the violence and contributes to further suffering for the Syrian people.
Governments must now work together to obtain a cessation of hostilities, initiate negotiations, provide humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens.
In short, what is needed in Syria is dialogue and reconciliation. It is only though these means that peace can be achieved.