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Everything listed under: Syria

  • Vatican condemns terrorism of Islamic State, rejects war as solution

    The Vatican summit today on the Middle East heard a strong call to protect Christian minorities, but also a strong rejection of war as a solution to the situation in Syria and Iraq.

    Pope Francis denounced what he called “terrorism on a scale that previously was unimaginable.”

    The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was more specific, condemning Islamic State fundamentalists for “unprecedented atrocities.” He also said Muslim leaders have a responsibility to publicly denounce the goals and activities of the so-called Islamic State. More broadly, Parolin said the separation of religion and state was an idea that should be developed in the Muslim world.

    Parolin directly addressed the question of “the use of force to stop aggression and to protect Christians and other groups that are victims of persecution.” He said action to stop unjust aggression was legitimate, but needed to be carried out “in respect of international law.”

    “Nevertheless, it is clearly seen that one cannot entrust the resolution of the problem to a solely military response. The problem needs to be faced more profoundly, starting with the causes that are at its origin and that are exploited by the fundamentalist ideology. As far as the so-called Islamic State is concerned, attention should also be given to the sources that support its terrorist activities through more or less clear political backing, as well as through the illegal commerce of oil and the furnishing of arms and technology,” he said.

    There’s also a very important line in Parolin’s speech aimed at the local church leaders in the Middle East, regarding political arrangements with governing authorities. The leaders of the small Christian flocks, he said, are called on to cooperate with Muslims and act as peace-builders, “without ceding to the temptation of seeking protection or defense by political or military authorities of the day, in order to ‘guarantee’ their own survival.”

    Here are a few other important passages (my translation, and my emphases) of the wide-ranging address by Cardinal Parolin to the one-day meeting of cardinals and patriarchs:

    "We have listened with emotion and great concern to the testimony about unprecedented atrocities perpetrated by more than one party in the region, but in particular by the fundamentalists of the group that calls itself the Islamic State, an entity that violates law and adopts terroristic methods in an effort to expand its power: mass killings, decapitations of persons who think differently, the sale of women, enrollment of children in combat, and destruction of places of worship."

    ...

    "In the concrete case of the so-called Islamic State, a particular responsibility falls on Muslim leaders, not only to distance themselves from the pretension of calling itself 'Islamic State' and forming a caliphate, but also to condemn more generally the killing of a person for religious reasons...."

    "Faced with the present challenges, attention must go to the roots of the problems, recognize also the errors of the past and try to favor a future of peace and development for the region, focusing on the good of the person and the common good. Experience has demonstrated that the choice of war, instead of dialogue and negotiation, multiplies the suffering of the entire population of the Middle East. The way of violence only leads to destruction; the way of peace leads to hope and progress. The first urgent step for the good of the population of Syria, Iraq and the entire Middle East is to put down the weapons and to dialogue."

    "In the specific case of violations and abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State, the international community, through the United Nations and the structures established for such emergencies, should take action in order to prevent possible new acts of genocide and to assist the numerous refugees. It seems opportune that the states in the region be directly involved, together with the rest of the international community, in the actions to be undertaken, with the awareness that this is not a matter of protecting a particular religious community or a particular ethnic group, but persons who are part of the human family and whose fundamental rights are being systematically violated."

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  • Pope rejects pursuit of military solution in Syria as Vatican convenes diplomats


                 Archbishop Dominique Mamberti

    I'm at the Vatican this week, where Syria is the number one topic of discussion and concern.

    We just learned that in a letter sent yesterday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis urged international leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” in Syria.

    It was the latest in a series of Vatican statements signaling opposition to President Obama’s planned attack on Syrian government forces and urging instead a renewed international-backed effort at diplomacy and negotiation.

    The pope wrote to Putin because the Russian leader is chairing a G20 summit that Obama is attending, but also perhaps because Russia has been a supporter of the Syrian regime headed by Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and therefore may have some influence with the Syrian leader.

    Francis condemned the “senseless massacre now unfolding” in Syria, and said the international community cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the country’s civilian population. But he said the path to follow was dialogue, because “violence never begets peace.”

    The pope’s letter was made public today after a meeting of ambassadors summoned by the Vatican for an urgent discussion of the Syrian situation. Addressing the diplomats, the Vatican’s foreign affairs minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, expressed outrage at the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria that left more than 1,400 people dead and called for clarification in identifying those responsible.

    He cited Pope Francis’ recent condemnation of the attack: “There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!” The Obama administration has blamed the Syrian regime for the attack.

    Mamberti said the short-term priority in Syria is to stop the violence, and he warned of “unforeseeable consequences” if the fighting continues. He then listed several essential principles that need to be part of a just solution in Syria:

    -- Renewal of dialogue between all parties in Syria.

    -- Preservation of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity.

    -- Protection of all minorities, including Christians, in the future Syria, as well as respect for religious freedom.

    Mamberti also expressed the Vatican’s growing concern about the presence of “extremist groups” in Syria, often from other countries, and said opposition forces should keep their distance from such extremists and openly reject terrorism. This was a point also raised by several of the 71 ambassadors present for the discussion that followed, according to a Vatican spokesman.

    When it comes to the issue of a U.S. attack on Syrian government forces, there isn't much debate going on at the Vatican: everyone here seems to think it would be a very bad idea.

    The message from the pope and others is that a U.S. bombing of Syria would not bring peace any closer, would increase suffering in the country, would worsen the flow of refugees, would risk sparking a wider war and could further endanger the Christian community and other religious minorities in Syria.

    Pope Francis has called for a universal day of prayer and fasting for peace on Saturday, an appeal that’s struck a chord among other religious leaders, including Muslims in the Middle East.

    But it’s clear the pope also wants to make sure the Vatican’s diplomatic voice is heard, and thus his letter to Putin and the convocation of ambassadors.

    All this echoes 2003, when Pope John Paul II convened diplomats and strongly warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There are important differences, of course – the United States is not planning an invasion of Syria – but many Vatican officials still point to Iraq as proof that military intervention often opens new chapters of suffering instead of resolving conflicts.

    When the United States and other Western powers took military action in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there was significant support at the Vatican for international “humanitarian intervention” aimed at disarming the aggressor in the wake of ethnic cleansing and what Pope John Paul II called “crimes against humanity.”

    But Vatican sources said this week that what Obama has in mind in Syria does not fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention.” Nor is a plan for peace being put forward. And that’s why, in this moment, prayer and fasting are seen not just as a symbolic response, but as a way to promote a new vision and a new international approach to Syria. (For a perceptive treatment of this issue, see Drew Christiansen’s piece in the Washington Post yesterday.)

    Along with Middle East and U.S. bishops, several Vatican and church officials have weighed in on the Syrian question in recent days.

    Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said armed intervention in Syria could easily extend the fighting to other countries, a situation that “has all the ingredients to explode in a war of global dimensions.”

    Religious orders have enthusiastically supported the pope’s initiatives, and the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Alfonso Nicolas, took the unusual step of categorically rejecting the plan to attack Syria. “I have to admit, I don't understand what right the United States or France has to act against a country in a manner that will undoubtedly increase the suffering of a population that has already suffered enough,” he said.

    The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has raised doubts about the United States’ attribution of the chemical attack to the Syrian government, saying that many find it “difficult to understand” why the Assad regime would cross the so-called “red line” of chemical weapons use when he appeared to be winning against the rebels.


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