World & Nation

Pope Francis appeals to world leaders to avoid ‘futile’ Syria strike

Pope Francis
Pope Francis takes part in a weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
(Alessandro Di Meo / European Pressphoto Agency)

As world leaders gathered Thursday for a G-20 summit in Russia, Pope Francis urged them to pursue a negotiated end to Syria’s civil war and abandon the “futile pursuit of a military solution.”

“It is regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding,” the pope said in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is hosting leaders of the Group of 20 major economies in St. Petersburg.

“To the 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.”

The pope made his plea as President Obama was seeking to rally international support for punitive strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical attack last month on pro-rebel suburbs of Damascus.


Francis condemned the use of the banned arms in a message Tuesday to his nearly 3 million Twitter followers.  But he has made it clear in recent days that he opposes any military retaliation.

“Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community,” the pope said in the letter.

The Vatican released the letter Thursday as its foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, briefed about 70 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See on its position regarding Syria.

Noting that the alleged Aug. 21 attack had generated “horror and concern” around the world, Mamberti said that the Holy See “hopes that the competent institutions make clear what happened and that those responsible face justice,” according to the Associated Press.


He reiterated the pope’s call for a negotiated settlement, which he said should preserve Syrian unity and protect the rights of minorities, including Christians. He also urged the opposition to distance itself from extremists and “openly and clearly oppose terrorism,” the AP reported.

The Roman Catholic Church has taken a careful approach to Syria, where many among the Christian minority are fearful of what they describe as an increasingly radicalized Islamist strain among the rebels. Some worry that an Islamist takeover could result in the kind of sectarian attacks that occurred in neighboring Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein, who, like Assad, was a secular autocrat.

Church leaders have warned that military intervention in Syria could lead to a wider conflict in which Christians and other minorities are targets.

The Assad family, who belong to the Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, has stayed in power for more than four decades in part by forging ties with other minorities, as well as elements of the Sunni Muslim majority.

The pope has called on Catholics and followers of other faiths to observe a day of fasting and prayer Saturday for peace in Syria and the Middle East.


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Twitter: @alexzavis