Pope Francis proposed a world day of fasting and prayer for Syria, saying that “God and history” will judge anyone who uses chemical weapons.
But while the pope condemned the use of chemical weapons, he advocated for a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war. Speaking from Vatican City in his weekly address, the pope announced he will lead the worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in the nation on September 7.
Francis broke tradition for the weekly papal appearance to tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square, reports The Associated Press. Rather than the traditional religious theme, the pope instead spoke entirely, emotionally, about Syria.
The remarks were Pope Francis’ strongest yet regarding the use of chemical weapons and were met with loud applause from people in the square below. AFP notes that he commented, in reference to photos and TV images of victims from the August 21 attack in Syria:
“With utmost firmness, I condemn the use of chemical weapons. I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heard.”
In his first reference to the reports of a sarin gas attack, Francis commented, “There is judgement from God and history on our actions that no one can escape.”
Francis will lead the prayers on September 7 with a five-hour vigil in St. Peter’s Square. The worldwide day of prayer and fasting will happen two days before the US Congress meets to debate and vote on a possible military strike to punish Syria for the chemical weapons use.
But in his speech on Sunday, Pope Francis advocated for peace. While he didn’t directly address the possible military retaliation, the pope stated, “My heart is profoundly wounded in these days by what is happening in Syria and I am anxious about the prospect of dramatic developments.” He added, “War leads to more war, violence to more violence.”
The prayer vigil led by Pope Francis for Syria will last from 7 pm until midnight local time. Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths, and non-believers who are “men of good will” were invited to attend and participate around the world.
[Image by Casa Rosada via Wikimedia Commons]