September 6, 2013


Pope Francis calls for fasting and prayer for peace in Syria

As we report on page 1 in this issue, Pope Francis has proclaimed this Saturday, Sept. 7, “a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world.”

He also invited “our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”

The pope and other Catholic leaders throughout the world have been urging a diplomatic solution, rather than a military strike that could easily escalate into a wider war. As he said, “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.”

We applaud the fact that President Barack Obama, after threatening a military strike against Syria, decided to seek congressional approval. We hope that Congress will not consent, just as the British Parliament did not consent when Prime Minister David Cameron sought its approval for military action against Syria.

The proposal for military action seems to be for cruise missiles to bomb Syria. But what would that accomplish? What would be our objective?

We agree wholeheartedly with Vienna, Austria’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who asked, “Were previous weapons programs successful in this region, and did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bring peace? What good can bombs do in a country already bleeding from a thousand wounds?”

We have heard a desperate plea from Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham, who was born in Syria. He said that armed intervention “would be a tragedy, a tragedy, a tragedy—for the whole country and the whole Middle East.”

He continued, “Enough with the intervention. It is fueling hatred, fueling criminality, fueling inhumanity, fueling fundamentalism, terrorism—all these things are the fruit of intervention. Enough! Surely, it will spread like a world war.”

Of course, we agree with Secretary of State John Kerry that the apparent nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb was a “moral obscenity.” And we agree that the Assad government must somehow be held accountable for the estimated 100,000 Syrians who have been killed and the 1.7 million who have been made homeless by the war that has lasted for 2½ years. Refugees from Syria are overwhelming Jordan and Lebanon.

But we fail to see how dropping bombs on Syria will correct that. What would come next? Would we take more direct military action, such as giving more support to the rebels who have been fighting against Assad? We know that many of those rebels are Islamic extremists, similar to those who have caused so much damage to Christian churches in Egypt.

How would Syria and its allies, including Iran and Russia, react to an escalation of the war? The people in Israel have a good idea since television has shown them getting gas masks at distribution centers. That’s surely what Patriarch Gregoire had in mind when he said that intervention would be a tragedy for the whole Middle East and spread like a world war.

Instead of urging Congress to approve a military strike, we believe that Kerry should be leading a diplomatic push to get the Assad government and leaders of the rebels to a negotiating table. He would get a lot more support from other governments for that than he has been able to get for the military option. As of now, only France is supporting that.

Pope Francis has called for diplomacy. “I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.”

As he noted when he named this Saturday as a day of fasting and prayer for peace, it is the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace. Let us respond to his appeal and ask for Mary’s intercession in helping us to find peace rather than an escalation of violence.

—John F. Fink

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