In his first comments since the missile attacks on Syria by the United States, Britain and France, Pope Francis said on Sunday, 15 April, that he is ‘deeply disturbed by the present world situation, in which notwithstanding the instruments at the disposition of the international community, it struggles to agree on a common action in favour of peace in Syria and in other regions of the world.’
Francis told pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square that ‘while I incessantly pray for peace and invite all persons of good will to do likewise, I again appeal to all those with political responsibility so that justice and peace may prevail.’
Sources in Rome said he was alluding to the breach of international law not only by the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian forces but also by the missile attacks launched by the United States and its European allies early last Friday morning in response to that criminal act. They said that by circumventing the United Nations such attacks weaken international structures for peace and risk making the situation worse, not only in Syria but in the wider Middle East region.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for prayers for peace and urged political leaders and the international community to bring about a peace accord. He is profoundly concerned about the failure of the international community to bring an end to the seven-year war in Syria, as he made clear in his address to the ambassadors from more than 180 countries on 8 January and more recently on 25 February after a particularly bloody week in the conflict.Pope Francis leads a prayer during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican 11 April. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
According to the United Nations and other sources, an estimated 500,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict began on 15 March 2011, in a country of around 18 million people; five million others have fled the country and over six million are internally displaced. The conflict has seen rebel forces, Kurdish forces, the Islamic State and other groups fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is being helped by Russia, Iran and others. In recent months, the Syrian forces of President Assad have seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
On 14 April, the Russian news agency TASS reported that ‘Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia had a phone conversation with Pope Francis focusing on the recent air strikes on Syria carried out by the United States, the United Kingdom and France.’ It said the patriarch told reporters, ‘We have come forward with this initiative knowing that the Christians cannot stay aside seeing what is happening in Syria.’
The Vatican has confirmed that the pope and patriarch spoke by phone but did not reveal any details of the conversation or if some joint action will follow as a result.
Also on 14 April, the Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Greek-Melkite Catholic issued a statement condemning ‘the brutal aggression’ against Syria by the United States, Britain and France ‘under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.’