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Praying for peace in Syria, pope calls selfishness the cause of war
Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis walks past candles and a crucifix at the start of the prayer vigil for peace in Syria Sept. 7 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Catholic News Service photo
Pope Francis walks past candles and a crucifix at the start of the prayer vigil for peace in Syria Sept. 7 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

Catholic News Service photo
People from Syria hold up signs before a prayer vigil led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. The pope called for the worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.
Catholic News Service photo
People from Syria hold up signs before a prayer vigil led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. The pope called for the worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.

Thousands flock to Rome armed with power of prayer in fight for peace

VATICAN CITY — For the thousands of people who turned out for a solemn vigil in St. Peter's Square, the power of prayer and hopes for peace are still mightier than the world's weapons and wars.

"Instead of using hatred, we are using prayer because it's the only thing that can bring calm and peace to everything," Michele Di Stadio, 20, told Catholic News Service.

Di Stadio came with 30 other young people from the Neocatechumenal Way in Rome, he said, "to pray so that a war that would only cause a world catastrophe wouldn't happen."

While the journey to St. Peter's Square wasn't anything unusual for Di Stadio and his friends, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Julie Abdelky, her husband and her brother Walif, who flew in from Damascus, Syria, specifically to take part in Pope Francis' call for peace in Syria and the whole world.

The pope called people to come to St. Peter's so they could "raise their voices so the world can hear," she said.

"Jesus can hear us better from here, too," added her husband, Tarek Harmouch.

Holding a Syrian flag, Julie also pulled out a small sign she had printed from a computer: "Don't turn off the light that led St. Paul to Christ; Stand by Syria."

The Sept. 7 evening vigil that drew tens of thousands of people to Rome and inspired similar events of prayer and reflection by countless other people of different faiths worldwide "must have an impact," said Julie, who is a Christian.

However, Christian Roehl, a tourist from Munich, Germany, said he thought the event would have no impact on world leaders.

"(U.S.Obama will do what he wants to do. I don't know why he got the Nobel Peace Prize and I am very angry and sad at the United States for wanting to have a war," he said.

Unlike his name, Roehl laughed, he is not a Christian and he thought praying for peace wouldn't do much.

"If the pope can call (Obama) by telephone and tell him 'No war' then that might be a more powerful influence than this. This is just a love parade," he said.

Roehl's companion, Anke Meierhenrich, shook her head in disagreement and interrupted saying that a gathering for peace was "very good."

"It will have lots of publicity, everyone will watch it on television. It will raise awareness about the conflict, which is a good thing to do," she said.


Catholic News Service


VATICAN CITY — 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.

"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.

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 center, 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 homily was 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 7 p.m., 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 11 p.m., 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.





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