Picture: L'Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis on Thursday (Sept. 5) told world leaders gathered in Russia for the G-20 summit that a military intervention in Syria would be “futile,” urging them to focus instead on dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace to the war-torn country.
The Argentine pontiff’s first major foray onto the global stage comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on a military strike against Syria in response to a reported chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
For Francis, just six months on the job, the Syria question will test his ability to summon the power of his global bully pulpit and could play a major role in shaping the global image of a man who’s drawn more attention for his down-to-earth pastoral appeal.
Western nations blame the chemical attack on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect with links to Shiite Islam who is trying to suppress a two-year-long Sunni-led rebellion that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Francis took the unusual step of penning a letter to world leaders ahead of a global day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria that Catholics will observe on Saturday (Sept. 7).
Francis will preside a marathon five-hour vigil in St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican has invited believers of all faiths and even nonbelievers to join in in whichever way they see fit.
To reinforce the pope’s peace effort, on Thursday the Vatican also briefed ambassadors from some 70 countries on its position on the Syrian conflict.
The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, explained that the church’s major concern is “stopping violence” and that any future peace plan must ensure that the rights of minorities, including Christians, are protected.
In his letter to world leaders gathered in St. Petersburg, Francis wrote that so far “one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution” to the Syrian conflict.
“To the (G-20) leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” he wrote.
Source: Religion News Service