The situation in Syria is dire. Over 110,000 people have died since the start of the civil war.
In his Angelus address on Sunday, September 1, 2013, Pope Francis lamented the violence that daily tears the world apart. He drew special attention to the situation in Syria. He condemned the use of chemical weapons, which have been deployed to kill innocent people. He implored the combatants in that conflict “to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation.” He exhorted the international community to seek “a peace based on dialogue and negotiation” rather than escalating violence through military action.
On September 7, he called for and subsequently held a day-of-prayer-for-peace-in-Syria. Pope Francis was not alone in praying for peace that day. Leaders from other Christian communities and other religious traditions joined together in prayer and fasting for a peaceful resolution to the suffering in Syria.
During the celebration of the vigil of the prayer for peace, Pope Francis expressed his hope that all people would desire and seek peace, from the highest officials in government to the ordinary citizen. He said,
Yes, we want it [peace]! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: 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. Look upon your brother’s sorrow – I think of the children: look upon these… look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity.
His appeal for peace evoked a number of themes in Catholic Social Teaching, including the dignity of every human person; rights and responsibilities of each person in relation to one another; care for God’s creation; and the call to community, family and participation. War destroys these social foundations; peace makes it possible for them to flourish.
How to bring about peace from violence? If we “stay our hand,” what can we do? The situation is so desperate and the magnitude of suffering so great it is easy to feel helpless.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is one of several non-governmental agencies in the United States that is working to alleviate the suffering of Syrians, while simultaneously addressing a number of other global crises. CRS urges people in the United States to pray; to learn; and to advocate on behalf of and to help directly Syrian refugees. Organizations like CRS make it possible for individuals to make a difference globally.
The need is global and local. Catholic Social Teaching also calls all people of good will to seek authentic encounter in their everyday lives, in relation to family, friends and neighbors. We can contribute to peace by pursuing “reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue” at home as well as in the public square.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Religious Studies