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Pope Francis prays that Syria will escape ‘spiral of sorrow and death’

By on Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Pope presides at the prayer vigil for Syria (AP)

The Pope presides at the prayer vigil for Syria (AP)

Pope Francis said last night that war is ultimately caused by selfishness, which can be overcome only though expressions of fraternity and never with violence.

Speaking at a prayer vigil for peace in Syria in St Peter’s Square, he said: “Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation.”

The Pope had called the prayer vigil less than a week earlier, as the central event of a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world. Around 100,000 people attended the event.

The Vatican called the vigil an unprecedented papal gesture for peace, by virtue of its scale and prominence of location. It took place the same day that US Secretary of State John Kerry met European leaders to make President Barack Obama’s case for a military strike on the government of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, as punishment for the alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there.

The Pope’s address, which took up about 15 minutes of the four-hour liturgy, did not refer to contemporary events but spoke in biblical terms about the nature of war, whose origins he traced to the fall of Adam and the first murder, by Cain of his brother Abel.

Answering Cain’s famous question to God – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – the Pope replied: “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another.

“We bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war,” the Pope said. “All of us!”

War’s ultimate source, Pope Francis said, is the original sin of disobedience.

“When man thinks only of himself, his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined,” the Pope said. “Then the door opens to violence, indifference and conflict.”

The Pope concluded on a hopeful note, asking the crowd: “Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

“Yes, it is possible for everyone!” he said, drawing applause, and he then invoked the image of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice as the ultimate symbol of peace.

“How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the cross, if only for a moment,” he said. “There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken.”

The Pope’s words were followed by a period of Eucharistic adoration, including several stretches when all present stood or knelt in silence, without any musical accompaniment.

At other times, as during the praying of the rosary in the first half of the vigil, prayers and readings alternated with choir music or performances on the harp and other string instruments.

During the adoration, people representing five different countries or regions with direct or indirect links to the Syrian conflict – Egypt, the Holy Land, Russia, the United States and Syria itself – brought up incense to burn in a brazier beside the altar.

The ancient icon of Mary known as Salus Populi Romani (“health of the Roman people”), which had been transported for the occasion from Rome’s Basilica of St Mary Major, stood on an easel beside the altar. The icon has special importance for Pope Francis, who went to pray before it on the first morning of his pontificate in March.

The atmosphere in the square was solemn, with none of the festivity of a Sunday Angelus or Wednesday public audience. Security guards confiscated flags, though some Syrian flags could be seen on the periphery of the square.

Many in the congregation clapped and cheered when Pope Francis came out of the basilica at 7pm, but soon fell silent when they noticed his serious demeanor and his failure to wave or smile.

At the end of the liturgy, just before 11pm, after the Pope had returned to the basilica, the crowd applauded again. Pope Francis came out to offer a few final words, thanking the congregation for their company and asking them to continue praying for peace.

“Good night and have a good rest,” he said.

  • Christian Mbam

    I hope we all and the world leaders will listen to the voice of wisdom of God, as the Pontiff calls for a change of approach in the pursuit for peace and cessation of violence and human misery in Syria and other places.

    Let the Pope’s directive be a shift of paradigm in the quest for peace and friendliness in the among humanity. Amen, amen

  • Sonja

    I watched the whole thing, participating from home, and wishing I could be in Rome to be in the reflective presence of all those faithful praying in Rome. Unfortunately my Parish and my Diocese did not think a week was long enough to organise anything communally at the Church – leaving it more to individuals to respond. We live in the age of the internet and email — it seems a shame we are not using them to mobilise — when an urgent call for prayer is needed. I hope the poignant words of Pope Francis on the futility of war will be noted by all Politicians of all faiths who have the power to impact change in Syria — for the sake of its people.

  • la Catholic state

    You are right. It wasn’t announced at last Sunday’s Mass…..probably because the clergy didn’t know about it. So very few Catholics knew about it.

  • Benedict Carter

    A Syrian Moslem friend told me yesterday that he and his friends had heard about this fasting and prayer initiative by the Pope and were very pleased by it. Let’s hope the Good Lord is equally pleased and peace somehow comes to that land.

  • Irudayam


    It was an extraordinary initiative of leadership and genuine concern of Pope Francis. It is true that the fervour of the Pope has not been matched by numerous parishes since the well entrenched clergies are yet to come out of their comfort zones and feel the pain of humanity.

    Notwithstanding the lukeworm response of the church hierarchy, the entire world is with the Pope.

  • Atilla the Possum

    It appears that it is taken for granted that everyone is on the internet and that the word would spread – the reality is that there are some priests and people who are not goggle-eyed on a computer day in, day out.
    I mean, face it. The media would rather report bad stuff happening in the church than make some precious little time to talk about Pope Francis’ prayer and fasting for peace in the run up to Saturday!
    The news people were quick enough to pick up on the Papal news conference (World Youth Day) and ‘conveniently’ miss out the essential words.
    Only for the internet, I would not have heard about it either.
    I participated on my own. It was worth it.

  • Denis

    The BBC continues to ignore the Pope’s initiative and has just, as of two minutes ago, begun a news bulletin with yet another condemnation of the Syrian regime, which though understandable can only make its pro-war agenda all the more obvious.
    It can only be a matter of days before they are back to their kick the Pope style of “balanced” reporting.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “The Pope’s address, which took up about 15 minutes of the four-hour
    liturgy, did not refer to contemporary events but spoke in biblical
    terms about the nature of war, whose origins he traced to the fall of
    Adam and the first murder, by Cain of his brother Abel.”

    “did not refer to contemporary events” ….but the event in Syria is the focal point of the prayer meeting and that is how it becomes a true Christian Prayer. The opponents of the Pope’s cause may go ahead with their war but the Pope and all of us with him must keep up this policy and trend of promoting peace in the world.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “….but spoke in biblical terms about the nature of war, whose origins he
    traced to the fall of Adam and the first murder, by Cain of his brother

    If our Pope can remain in this mode whenever he addresses Christian Leaders/Leader or any nation or group of people where the majority are Christians even if just in name, in itself it will be a great help towards bringing God’s peace and salvation to all. Bring in anything near to the essence of revealed message of God’s Word from the cultural and religious values of that particular land or nation and it’s people will add to the shine of the whole message he gives.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Charles Watters

    I am deeply grateful for Pope Francis’ wise and compassionate intervention in the Syria crisis