Pope’s call for Syria peace draws 100,000 in Rome rally
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square for a four-hour Syria peace vigil late Saturday, answering Pope Francis’ call for a grassroots cry for peace that was echoed by Christians and non-Christians alike in Syria and in vigils around the world.
The Vatican estimated about 100,000 took part in the Rome event, making it one of the largest rallies in the West against proposed US-led military action against the Syrian regime following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
Francis spent most of the vigil in silent prayer, but during his speech he issued a heartfelt plea for peace, denouncing those who are “captivated by the idols of dominion and power” and destroy God’s creation through war.
“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace!” he said.
“May the noise of weapons cease!” he said. “War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity.”
Meanwhile, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urged Filipinos yesterday to shun individualism and join millions of Catholics worldwide in prayer for the restoration of peace in Syria .
“It is time for us, Filipinos, to be part of the whole world in pushing for this cause,” Tagle said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.
Tagle said the Filipino people should unite with the whole world in seeking an end to the conflict in Syria as well as other countries being marred by violence like Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Cambodia, and East Timor.
“The wrath of violence in Syria affects thousands of our brothers and sisters. We could not just act indifferently and claim that since they are geographically far from us, we are not affected by this phenomenon,” Tagle said.
His Eminence asked Filipinos not to be cowed in prayer even as they are geographically separated from other nations.
“We are all united as one. We might be geographically separated from each other, but we are all united by the virtue of our humanity,” Tagle said.
“We should not turn ourselves away from this, especially now that the world is ruled by great interdependence—move one part and everything gets affected,” Tagle added.
“It is true that it is hard to remove individualism from our day-to-day living. But we should be reminded that it is in the act of selfishly living on our own, totally disregarding others, is where hardships and destruction of the world root from,” he said.
Tagle encouraged the people to give the “gift of self” to help resolve conflicts in the Middle East.
“Let us relate our minds, hearts, and even our physical bodies to our brothers and sisters in Syria. The temporary hunger you will feel in fasting is nothing compared to what they are going through,” he said.
Resistance To Strike
In Paris, The US tried to rally support on Saturday for a military strike against Syria, running into resistance from the American public and skeptics in Congress and from European allies bent on awaiting a UN report about a chemical attack they acknowledge strongly points to the Assad government.
President Barack Obama prepared for a national address Tuesday night as a growing number of lawmakers, including fellow Democrats, opposed the use of force. The American public didn’t yet appear persuaded by Obama’s argument that action is needed to deter the future use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, a US official released a DVD compilation of videos showing victims of the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with more than two dozen European foreign ministers on Saturday, insisted that international backing to take strong action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was growing, not receding.
Kerry noted that the ministers, who held an informal meeting of the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania, made powerful statements condemning the attack, and that increasingly there was a sense of conviction that Assad was to blame. Kerry said the US had agreed to provide additional information to those ministers who were not yet convinced that Assad orchestrated the attack.
In Washington, at least 150 protesters picketed in front of the White House and marched to Capitol Hill to voice their opposition to a US military strike in Syria. Anti-war protests were also held in other US cities, including one in New York City’s Times Squares and a prayer vigil in Boston that echoed Saturday’s massive gathering at the Vatican.
Medea Benjamin, a founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, said a cross-section of Americans, many of whom disagree on a variety of issues, are united against military intervention.
“We have suddenly found ourselves united as Americans, overwhelmingly saying we will not let you drag us into another war,” Benjamin shouted into a megaphone in front of the White House. (With a report from Raymund F. Antonio )