The urgent need for prayers for the people of Syria — and peace – has compelled a pope to use a hashtag on Twitter for the first time in history this week.
لتوحِد سلسلة من الالتزام بالسلام جميع الرجال والنساء من ذوي الإرادة الصالحة! #prayforpeace— البابا فرنسيس (@Pontifex_ar) September 6, 2013
All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. #prayforpeace— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 6, 2013
Orate, iuvenes dilecti, Dominum mecum pacem in terris #prayforpeace— Papa Franciscus (@Pontifex_ln) September 6, 2013
Pope Francis has called for Saturday, between the hours of 1 and 6 p.m. EST, to be a time of fasting and prayer for Catholics, inviting women and men of good will throughout the world to join him. He issued the call on Sunday, saying:
Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.
There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.
I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.
With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour 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.
May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that Saturday would be:
a special day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world. I renew the invitation to the whole Church to live this day intensely, and even now I express gratitude to the other Christian brethren, to the brethren of other religions and to the men and women of good will who desire to join in this initiative, in places and ways of their own. I especially urge the Roman faithful and pilgrims to participate in the prayer vigil here in St. Peter’s Square at 19.00, in order to ask the Lord for the great gift of peace. May a powerful cry for peace go up from every land!
On Friday, California Evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren tweeted (that’s the way prayers for peace roll these days) that he would be praying alongside his Catholic brothers and sisters:
Join me in praying and fasting on Saturday to #PrayForPeace in Syria. James 3:5-6— Rick Warren (@RickWarren) September 6, 2013
It’s safe to say the pope and the president of the United States are not on the same page. The Drudge Report notes, as I write:
I’m still struck by the president explaining to the world on Friday, in Russia (of all places), that “I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.” I suppose he meant it as a letter of recommendation on his own behalf to the Nobel Prize Committee that he get to keep that inexplicable “peace” prize of his.
Earlier this week, in a letter to President Obama signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, the U.S. bishops voiced concern that Christians in Syria will be in more danger should the U.S. strike:
With you we mourn for the lives lost and grieve with the families of the deceased. At the same time, we remain profoundly concerned for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have lost their lives, the more than 2 million who have fled the country as refugees, and the more than 4 million within Syria who have been driven from their homes by the violence. Our focus is on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and on saving lives by ending the conflict, not fueling it.
I thought Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal captured the widespread American reaction to what the president is proposing in Syria with his camera-ready sober seriousness:
What are the American people thinking? Probably some variation of: Wrong time, wrong place, wrong plan, wrong man.
Twelve years of war. A sense that we’re snakebit in the Mideast. Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t go well, Libya is lawless. In Egypt we threw over a friend of 30 years to embrace the future. The future held the Muslim Brotherhood, unrest and a military coup. Americans have grown more hard-eyed—more bottom-line and realistic, less romantic about foreign endeavors, and more concerned about an America whose culture and infrastructure seem to be crumbling around them.
The administration has no discernible strategy. A small, limited strike will look merely symbolic, a face-saving measure. A strong, broad strike opens the possibility of civil war, and a victory for those as bad as or worse than Assad. And time has already passed. Assad has had a chance to plan his response, and do us the kind of damage to which we would have to respond.
There is the issue of U.S. credibility. We speak of this constantly and in public, which has the effect of reducing its power. If we bomb Syria, will the world say, “Oh, how credible America is!” or will they say, “They just bombed people because they think they have to prove they’re credible”?
We are, and everyone knows we are, the most militarily powerful and technologically able nation on earth. And at the end of the day America is America. We don’t have to bow to the claim that if we don’t attack Syria we are over as a great power.
Are North Korea and Iran watching? Sure. They’ll always be watching. And no, they won’t say, “Huh, that settles it, if America didn’t move against Syria they’ll never move against us. All our worries are over.” In fact their worries, and ours, will continue.
Sometimes it shows strength to hold your fire. All my life people have been saying we’ve got to demonstrate our credibility—that if we, and the world, don’t know we are powerful by now we, and they, will never know.
Finally, this president showed determination and guts in getting Osama bin Laden. But a Syria strike may become full-scale war. Is Barack Obama a war president? On Syria he has done nothing to inspire confidence. Up to the moment of decision, and even past it, he has seemed ambivalent, confused, unaware of the implications of his words and stands. From the “red line” comment to the “shot across the bow,” from the White House leaks about the nature and limits of a planned strike to the president’s recent, desperate inclusion of Congress, he has seemed consistently over his head. I have been thinking of the iconic image of American military leadership, Emanuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” There Washington stands, sturdy and resolute, looking toward the enemy on the opposite shore. If you imagine Mr. Obama in that moment he is turned, gesturing toward those in the back. “It’s not my fault we’re in this boat!” That’s what “I didn’t set a red line” and “My credibility is not at stake” sounded like.
And looked like.
And, via the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Nawras Sammour of the Jesuits’ Refugees Service, responsible for their programs in the Middle East and North Africa, urged that “A military intervention will not achieve anything. Each of the parties involved must understand that the crisis will not be resolved in the way it desires. All are losers and no one is victor, and will never be.”
The priest, born in Aleppo, said that “an attack could lead indisputably to an increase in violence: a terrible escalation which will compel its extension to neighboring countries, contaminating the whole Middle Eastern region.”
The Jesuit finds the crisis too complex to be resolved by a military operation, of which no one can foresee the long term results.
He provided a small snapshot on life in and around Damascus:
Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital, often deprived of electricity, Father Sammour described how “all live in expectation, although life continues in general as before the threat of war.”
He continued by say that while there is no unanimous opinion on the eventuality of an intervention, many have begun to store food, and, in the last two weeks, those that had the possibility have left the country.
“Those, like me, who wish instead to stay in Syria, avoid going abroad for fear of being blocked, given the hostilities. Together with some brothers we have just canceled a trip to Lebanon precisely for this reason,” he said.
The Jesuits are helping more than 17,000 Syrian families, 80% of which are Muslim.
The priest said that Pope Francis['s] words are of great comfort for Christians. “The Holy Father’s appeal was excellent,” said Father Sammour, stating that also in Syria many will take part in the day of fasting called by the Pontiff for September 7.
In the Jesuits’ House in Damascus, the day will begin with Vespers tomorrow evening. “Now more than ever we are in need of prayer,” added the religious, praising the many initiatives of the universal Church to promote peace.
The Pope’s words were not only appreciated by the Christian community. The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, expressed the hope of being able to pray next Saturday in Saint Peter’s Square.
Here’s the missal for tomorrow’s prayer service in Rome.
To help understand that this isn’t a mere political statement but a consistent cry, I have more here.