VATICAN CITY (RNS) 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.

The pope’s forceful stance on Syria marks the Holy See’s return as an actor on the international stage. Despite being the world’s smallest state, the Vatican has one of the oldest and largest diplomatic networks in the world. It enjoys the status of permanent observer at the United Nations.

Most importantly, the pope’s status as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics makes him an internationally respected figure, a moral voice capable of speaking to governments and peoples alike.

Under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican mounted a full-throttled attempt to try to avert the Iraq War in 2003, dispatching envoys to Washington and Baghdad in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the conflict.

Like most of the Vatican’s appeals for peace in the 20th century – starting with Benedict XV’s call to end the “pointless slaughter” of World War I – John Paul’s effort ultimately was unsuccessful.

But according to Pierre Morel, a former French ambassador to the Vatican who now heads the Pharos Observatory on religious pluralism in Paris, this doesn’t make Vatican diplomacy altogether impotent or irrelevant.

“It tries to do something that nobody can simply dismiss,” he said. “It expresses the deep frustrations of the world’s peoples and its appeals come from the suffering of communities on both sides.”

In recent years, especially under Pope Benedict XVI, observers noted that the Vatican’s relevance on the international stage was waning. The German pontiff preferred to focus on the church’s internal matters and appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a gaffe-prone canon law expert, to head the Vatican’s diplomatic corps as secretary of state.

Francis, on the other hand, seems intent on reversing that record with his recent appointment of Archbishop Pietro Parolin, a well-respected veteran diplomat, as Bertone’s successor.

“His forceful stance on Syria marks the end of an impasse,” says Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic organization active in conflict resolution and peace-brokering.

“Francis is not resigned to a passive vision of world affairs. We must prepare for a new age of political audacity for the Holy See.”

22 Comments

  1. I believe so much in what Pope Francis is calling for on Saturday. My entire family will be fasting and praying , attending mass . Everyone should join in, no matter your religious affiliation. This Peace that we are praying for effects all of us in America, and the world. We are stuck in a culture of death. We need to be constantly praying, as this is what will bring peace. Prayer is very powerful. Please join us.

  2. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    As an American Catholic, I am glad that Pope Francis is speaking out about the situation in Syria. Hopefully, he will unite with other religious leaders to pressure Assad and his wife to cease this terrible destruction of his own people, especially by chemical weapons.

    Where is the outrage of the world???

    Is President Obama the only world leader who sees the need to make Assad accountable???

    Sadly, in my view, the Vatican is already on the global stage due to its cover-up of the worldwide clergy sexual abuse crisis and its lack of accountability for the many suicides around the world of those who gave up hope that their stories of being sexually abused by a priest, religious brother, nun, or bishop, would be believed because of the lies and denial of the truth by the sexual predators and by the hierarchy.

    I hope Pope Francis will regret his past protection of at least one sexual predator priest and that he will be willing to speak with the victims of clergy sexual abuse, refer all cases to the police for investigation, and remove the predator priests from the priesthood.

    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago

    • Francisco Vas

      Dr, McHugh:
      After your first paragraph, the last two are non-sequitur.
      As much as the issue of sexual abuse is an abomination, there is a proper place and time to make those concerns known. Otherwise you become a an empty noisemaker adn an irritation.

    • Do you really believe that Assad would launch these the day UN inspectors arrived to check on rebel use of chemical weapons? It is obvious the Islamic rebels wanted to draw the US in. Turkey all ready had caught other rebels with 2kgs of sarin gas a few weeks ago, Wise up. Obama is up to no good.

  3. As Jesus instructed his true followers, we should pray for God’s kingdom (heavenly government with God’s son, Jesus, as King) to come and for God’s will to be done in heaven as it is to be done on earth (Matthew 6:10), or God’s kingdom putting an end to all of man’s governments (Daniel 2:44) and bringing true peace and security to meek mankind on earth (Psalm 37:10,11).

  4. Fr Johan Paul Gill

    God bless Pope for speaking up against war and violence. Our prayerful support is with him always. As far as the sexual abuses of the clergy is concerned, i am very sure that he will deal with it as effectively as expected but surely it will take time. Lets wait and see. And instead of being negative and critical all the time support him with our prayers. May God bless you all. Amen.

  5. The Pope is nice but non rational on war. He asks when has violence ever brought peace. It stopped Hitler from taking over Europe and stopped Japan from enslaving China in WWII.
    It’s like our Popes feel obligated to be the opposite of the Inquisition Popes but that is merel going from one wrong extreme to another one. He’s a nice people person but he is not careful with generalities.

  6. Dr Rosemary. Are you really a doctor. your comments are stupid and evil. The world wants peace and not war. Your Obama is a evil. if he has evidence assad used chemical wepons, why is he hiding the evidence. Anyway Americans have no shame. The Al qieda bombed the twin towers and now America is helping the same people to attack the christians. Shame

  7. Pope’s pulpit is no bully pulpit. It is a very reasonable, persuasive and compassionate call to people with hard hearts and insensitive minds. If they cannot foresee the blood, sweat, tears of thousands of men, women and children who are mostly poor, then they should not be in the positions they are occupying now. Arsenals of arms and armaments manufacturers should be eliminated from the face of the earth, Then the leaders will be forced to use their brains to find ways of negotations that lead to peace among men of goodwill.

  8. Dr. rosmary, are u isane, listen, before Iraq war strated, both Bush and tony bler went to vatican to meet Pope John P II for advice, pope then told them not to use military intervention on Iraq but using diplomatic approach. the both listened but not practiced. what happened was thousands killed and endless civil war now in iraq. you are deserved for Hell Ross. you should have not lived in this world bcoaz you are useless.

  9. Look my beloved friends arround the world, “Power of Evil in Syria is topledown by the power of Prayer by Pope France – Believe or not , the most powerfull weapon to solve problem is A faithfull prayer that is all no other my friends , its proved.

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