On the Saturday before Labor Day, President Obama announced his decision to intervene in Syria and seek congressional authorization for military strikes. The next day, Pope Francis devoted his Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter’s to an appeal for peace, and a plan to seek global intercession for a nonviolent resolution.
With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.
May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.
What can we do to make peace in the world?
May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). “Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love” (World Day of Peace Message, 1975). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! Amen.
But he didn’t end there. Francis continued his activities at his own version of shuttle diplomacy, taking his appeal directly to world leaders.
Pope Francis is exhausting all efforts to avoid a military strike on Syria. The latest is a the letter he wrote to the world leaders at the G-20 summit, that is underway in St. Petersburg, Russia. With strong words, Francis wrote that ever since the start of the conflict, “one-sided interests” have interfered with finding a “solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”
Francis addressed each and everyone of the G20 leaders and asked them to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”
The letter, printed in full at this link, was addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who presided over the G20 summit. But it was part of a larger initiative. The media largely ignored this remarkable appeal, this intervention by Francis and the Holy See.
Earlier, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, held a special briefing at the Vatican for all ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to inform them of the “significance of Pope Francis’ initiative” to hold a special day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 7.
But many of the diplomats were surprised to also be handed a three-page “non paper”, or aide-memoire, detailing the Holy See’s concerns for Syria and a list of six points which it considers “important for preparing a possible [peace] plan for the future of Syria.”
The document, entitled “Regarding the Situation in Syria,” focuses on “following general principles,” which include re-launching dialogue and reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into different zones and maintaining its territorial integrity.
The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites (President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling sect) must also have guarantees or they may emigrate or risk their own lives by remaining in the country.
“Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,” the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in preparing any new constitution and laws.
The document proposes the establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of citizenship with equal dignity and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It also stresses the importance of asking “members of the opposition to distance themselves from extremists groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and clearly.”
The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”
This really is Pope Francis’ Peace Plan. It’s amazing.
Elsewhere, the document recalls the “numerous and heartfelt” interventions by the Pope on the crisis, as well as those by the Holy See.
“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says, adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.”
It stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and that one “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,” it says.
The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the situation is “extremely grave” and that it’s foreseeable by the end of the year that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all parts of the country, it calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and guaranteed safety for aid workers.
Recalling that the Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on all part of all governments in the region and non-governmental organizations.
The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence, avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral aims.”
A diplomat who attended the briefing said he and his colleagues were “surprised at the detail of the program,” which they saw as an effort on the Holy See’s part to restart the Geneva II negotiations.
This is news. Big, major, inspired, extraordinary breaking news. Someone tell the media.