BY EDWARD PENTIN 08/29/2013
VATICAN CITY — The Holy See is using diplomatic channels to convince the U.S. government and its allies not to take military action against Syria and to pursue a political solution to the conflict instead.
Pope Francis said during his Sunday Angelus Aug. 25 that he was disturbed by the “terrible images” coming from Syria and stressed it is “not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems, but, rather, the ability to meet and dialogue.”
The Holy See is taking the Pope’s line to diplomats in Rome, contending that any military operation won’t solve the situation. “Both sides will have to renounce something, but military action will cause more problems,” a Vatican diplomat told the Register.
Instead, the Holy See would like to see more pressure exerted on the U.N. Security Council to implement a peace process, as well as more attention placed on the dire humanitarian situation caused by the conflict.
Pope Francis is expected to continue voicing his concerns until the situation improves, the official said, and although the Holy Father has no intention yet of sending a peace envoy to the region, the Holy See is “open to doing everything it can to find a political solution.”
In a meeting today between the Pope and King Abdullah II of Jordan “the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East” was at the top of the agenda.
“Special attention was reserved for the tragic situation in which Syria finds itself,” a Vatican statement said. “In this regard, it was reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many human lives, especially amongst the helpless civilian population.”
Over the past week, Church leaders in Syria and the Middle East have spoken out forcefully against the West’s approach to the Syrian conflict, especially over the possibility of military intervention following the recent chemical-weapons attack on Damascus.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Youssef III Younan told Terrasanta.net Aug. 26 that Syrian Christians “have been betrayed and sold by the West,” and that they are “disillusioned by the cynical, Machiavellian” policies of Western nations, the Gulf states and Turkey. Over the past two and a half years, he said, these states have armed the rebels, only to realize there can be no military solution to the crisis.
Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch of Antioch, said yesterday any Western intervention would be “disastrous,” and he also criticized U.S. policy towards Syria.
“You should not accuse the government one day and then accuse the opposition the next. That is how you fuel violence and hatred,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “The Americans have been fuelling the situation for two years.”
Speaking to Vatican Radio Aug. 27, Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo warned that Western intervention could lead to “a world war,” but he said he hoped both sides would heed Pope Francis’ call for dialogue.
Other Catholic leaders have expressed similar concerns about a possible U.S. airstrike. Father Jacques Mourad, abbot of the monastery of Deir Mar Musa (The Monastery of Saint Moses the Ethiopian) in northern Damascus, told Fides news agency yesterday that Syrian Christians are “in a phase of extreme suffering” and that he hopes Western countries “take the right position, reject[ing] all forms of violence, putting an end to aiming weapons at one another and defending and protecting human rights.”
The monastery was re-founded by Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped a month ago in the area of Raqqa. The religious there have just held a “special day of prayer and fasting” for the release of Father Paolo and for peace in Syria.
Catholic bishops in the region are thought to be appealing to President Barack Obama directly to avoid military action. Many Syrians fear the conflict descending into another Iraq War.
The patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I Sako, said any U.S.-led military intervention against Syria would be “a disaster” and would be “like a volcano erupting with an explosion meant to destroy Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine.”
“Maybe someone wants this,” he told Fides. “Everyone is talking about democracy and freedom, but to reach those goals, one must pass through historical processes, and one cannot think of imposing them in a mechanical way or with force. The only way, in Syria, as elsewhere, is the search for political solutions.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.