USCCB Administrative Committee echoes pope’s plea for peace in Syria

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While standing in solidarity with the church and people of Syria, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee echoed the plea of Pope Francis that the international community immediately take steps to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Meeting in Washington Sept. 10, committee members said in a statement that a political solution, rather than a military response, was needed to resolve Syria’s 30-month civil war.

“We have heard the urgent calls of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable ancient Christian churches of the Middle East. As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria. They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation and will have unintended negative consequences,” the statement said. Continue reading

Human rights, religious freedom called necessary to lasting peace

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, speaks Sept. 9 at a conference on "Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land -- That All May Be Free" at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (CNS photo/Edmund Pfueller, Catholic University of America)

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, speaks Sept. 9 at a conference on “Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May Be Free” at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (CNS photo/Edmund Pfueller, Catholic University of America)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Retired Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, back from a recent trip to Jordan, said four essential elements to any long-range peace deal in the Middle East are human rights, religious freedom, an agreement on the Holy Land and forging a “path to peace.”

“The whole question of peace, the whole question of religious liberty, is so important,” Cardinal McCarrick said Sept. 9 at a conference, “Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May Be Free,” at The Catholic University of America.

The university co-sponsored the conference along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.

Cardinal McCarrick said that during his trip to Jordan in early September, he visited the Jordan-Syria border. “You can see the tremendous difficulty” of those fleeing Syria, he said, in light of an ongoing civil war and the specter of a U.S. attack on Syria over reported government use of chemical weapons there. Continue reading

Vatican’s U.N. nuncio calls military strikes on Syria ‘unjustified’

By Catholic News Service

Archbishop Chullikatt delivers his homily during a Mass for peace in Syria at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York Sept. 7. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Archbishop Chullikatt delivers his homily during a Mass for peace in Syria at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York Sept. 7. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Military strikes on Syria are unjustified and will create a far larger humanitarian disaster for people already suffering from hunger, displacement and critical lack of medical care, said the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations.

Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt urged, instead, that world leaders work toward a “cessation of violence, not an escalation of violence” in Syria during a Mass Sept. 7 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

The Mass was celebrated in conjunction with Pope Francis’ request for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for world peace, and particularly for a peaceful resolution to Syria’s civil war.

“A cease-fire, even if only partial, would permit humanitarian assistance to reach at least the hardest hit areas of the country,” Archbishop Chullikatt told those who attended the liturgy. “Helping Syria means finding political and humanitarian solutions through dialogue and reconciliation, not intrusionary military tactics.

“As winds of war howl around Syria in this moment, we urge building and restoring peace through all options and alternatives, not yet exhausted. How can we think of military strikes as the only alternative? The end cannot justify the means,” he said. Continue reading

Aid agencies fear increase in Syrian refugees if U.S. launches strikes

By James Martone
Catholic News Service

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Tanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country. He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched “tens of thousands” pour into neighboring Turkey as he did.

Mustafa Abu Bekir, 23, is carried by a family member as they enter Turkey from  the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate Sept. 9. More than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. (CNS /Reuters)

Mustafa Abu Bekir, 23, is carried by a family member as they enter Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate Sept. 9. More than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. (CNS /Reuters)

“It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work,” Kahiaian told Catholic News Service Sept. 8 from near his home in Istanbul’s Kumkapi district.

Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul’s Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm in Turkey because of his numerous languages.

“I speak Turkish and I am doing for them a lot of business in Turkish clothes with Arabic countries. But the people on the border have nothing,” he said. “If there are (air) strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced Sept. 3 that more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. About a million are reportedly children. Continue reading

Faithful urged to raise voices for peace in Syria at shrine Mass

By Richard Szczepanowski
Catholic News Service

A woman kneels in prayer during a Mass for peace in Syria and the world Sept. 7 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A woman kneels in prayer during a Mass for peace in Syria and the world Sept. 7 in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As American policymakers debated military intervention in Syria, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl joined Pope Francis and Catholics around the world in calling for peace and a just solution to the violence that has wracked the country and other parts of the world.

“Today we pray for those who are a part of our human family and who endure terrible acts of violence. We also invoke God’s blessings on those who strive to contain violence around the world,” Cardinal Wuerl said during a special Mass Sept. 7 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“We ask God to give all of us the strength to walk in the light of God’s love and that we might be true agents of human solidarity, justice and true peace,” he said.

The Mass was one of dozens of liturgies and prayer services across the U.S. in response to Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world. Continue reading

For the pope, making peace is now part of the job

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church on an extraordinary campaign to prevent President Barack Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria.

Pope Francis leads a vigil to pray for peace in Syria in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis leads a vigil to pray for peace in Syria in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On Sept. 4, the pope appealed to leaders of the G-20 nations to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” to the Syrian civil war and promote instead a “peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation.” The next day, his foreign minister sent the same message in a special meeting with the Vatican diplomatic corps. And on Sept. 7, the pope led a prayer vigil for Syria in St. Peter’s Square — an event that the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, predicted would be unprecedented, in both scale and importance of setting, as a papal gesture for peace.

Exceptional as they are, however, Pope Francis’ actions have followed in close continuity with the spirit and record of his predecessors. Continue reading

Children at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’

Syrian refugees carry belongings as they enter Turkey

Syrian refugees enter a Turkish border gate Sept. 4. The UNHCR said there had been a near tenfold increase over the past 12 months in the number of refugees crossing into bordering countries. (CNS photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The latest statistics out by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees say that more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country with countless others internally displaced.

This UN graphic gives the tragedy some frightening details, showing how in less than six months, the number of refugees has doubled. Continue reading

Praying for peace in Syria, pope calls selfishness the cause of war

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Leading a crowd in prayer for peace in Syria, Pope Francis said that war is ultimately caused by selfishness, which can be overcome only though expressions of fraternity and never with violence.

Pope Francis silently meditates as he leads a vigil to pray for peace in Syria in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis silently meditates as he leads a vigil to pray for peace in Syria in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“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 said Sept. 7 before an estimated 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.

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.

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 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European leaders to make President Barack Obama’s case for a military strike on the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, as punishment for the alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there.

The pope’s homily, 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. Continue reading