At Syria vigil, Pope Francis calls for peace in Mideast

ROME (JTA) – Tens of thousands of people converged on St. Peter’s Square for a peace vigil for Syria called by Pope Francis, who called for peace and reconciliation throughout the Middle East.

“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!” Francis, who had spent the day fasting, told the crowd on Saturday night.

“May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity,” he added. “Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace.”

The Vatican estimated that more than 100,000 people took part in the culmination of a “day of fasting and prayer for peace” convoked by Francis on Sept. 1.

The Vatican stressed the gathering was religious, not political, but observers said that at times it resembled a political rally, with people in the crowd waving Syrian flags, wearing T-shirts and holding placards with slogans such as “hands off Syria,”“Don’t attack Syria”, and “Obama you have no dream, you have a nightmare.”

The Vatican Information Servcice said the initiative had been “welcomed and applauded not only by Catholics and other Christian confessions, but also by those belonging to other religions, from Buddhists to Jews and Muslims, and even those who do not belong to any religion.”

During the ceremony, five pairs of people meant to represent “Syria, Egypt, the Holy Land, the United States and Russia” placed incense in a censor to accompany prayers for peace.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

In his homily, Francis cited the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel. “We bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war,” he said. “And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother.”

 “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!” the pope said.

The Vatican reported that Pope Francis also tweeted the message “Pray for peace” to his 9 million Twitter followers.