POPE FRANCIS SHOWS THE WAY ON SYRIA
New York Dr. Cesar Chelala
Calling the war on Syria “a defeat for humanity,” Pope Francis reiterated his opposition to the war, denouncing at the same time “the commercial wars to sell arms” and demanding that political leaders find a “just solution to the conflict.” During the traditional Angelus ceremony in St. Peter Square Pope Francis stressed that world leaders should choose the way of peace, in what many interpreted as a message to the United States and France presidents.
The Grand Mufti of Damascus thanked Pope Francis for his efforts on behalf of peace in Syria, and invited Muslims to join an invitation from Pope Francis to fast in solidarity and opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict. As both of them joined in their efforts for peace, the Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and All East presided a service in the al-Zaytoun Church in Damascus supporting a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
The Pope’s comments came at a time of renewed activity by those promoting strikes on Syria –notably President Barak Obama and Democratic and Republican political leaders- are seeking Congressional authorization for that measure. Almost at the same time, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence.”
While U.S. political leaders sought Congress authorization for war on Syria, the Vatican stressed its message for peace, and summoned ambassadors for a briefing by the Holy See foreign minister this week. Pope Francis also appealed to the world leaders at the G20 meeting in Russia, and urged them to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution for the Syrian conflict.
As these events are taking place, thousands of people are leaving Syria and becoming refugees in neighboring countries, where they are overburdening the host countries’ health and social services and provoking animosity among the local population.
The Zaatari camp located in Jordan about ten miles across the border from Syria, although it opened a year ago, has grown so large that for all practical purposes it is now a city. It needs huge amounts of water for its operation, water that is already extremely scarce in Jordan. The camp presently has about 120,000 people, and is now the fourth most populous place in Jordan and the second largest refugee camp in the world.
The challenges due to this huge refugee population are bound to become even larger if there is a military attack on Syria. UN officials are already making contingency plans to house more than 150,000 Syrians that may try to find refugee in Jordan. A measure of Syrians’ desperation is that many of them are fleeing into Iraq, a country already undergoing a prolonged humanitarian situation.
Pope Francis anti-war stand follows other Popes’ similar positions in the past. That was the case of Pope Paul VI, who famously uttered the words “War never again, never again war,” at the United Nations in New York in 1965, as the war in Vietnam was raging on. Pope John Paul II had a similar stand when on the eve of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq urged President George W. Bush to stand down, to no avail.
Pope Francis was joined in his demand for peace by the World Council of Churches, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and religious leaders of every persuasion who urged their followers to heed Pope Frances’ demand for peace.
There is almost universal agreement that U.S.-French military strikes will only worsen the situation for civilians and swell the numbers of refugees fast creating a destabilizing situation throughout the region and threatening a widening of the conflict to nearby countries.
In addition, many Americans and members of Congress fear that what starts as a “shot across the bow” may lead to an implosion in Syria and end up becoming a full fledged conflict of dire consequences for the people in the region
Today, more than ever, we need the wisdom and broad vision of people like Pope Francis, and heed his message for peace. As he stated during the prayer for peace in St. Peter’s Square, “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).