Pope, in Syria peace appeal, calls for end to spiral of death

Sat Sep 7, 2013 7:28pm EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A sombre-looking Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal before 100,000 people on Saturday to avert a widening of Syria's conflict, urging world leaders to pull humanity out of a "spiral of sorrow and death".

Francis, who two days ago branded a military solution in Syria "a futile pursuit", led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.

"Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!" Francis said at the midpoint of a five-hour prayer service. Police and the Vatican estimated a crowd of about 100,000 in St Peter's Square.

The United States and France are considering military action against Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for an August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Assad's government denies responsibility.

A number of people held up Syrian flags and placards reading "Hands off Syria," and "Obama, you don't have a dream, you have a nightmare". But they were not allowed into St Peter's Square, in keeping with the pope's intention for a religious service.

The service was punctuated by music, prayer, the reciting of the rosary and long periods of silence in which the participants were asked to meditate on the need for peace to vanquish the destruction of war.

"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!" said Francis, who wore his simple white cassock instead of ceremonial robes to the service.

"At this point I ask myself: Is it possible to change direction? 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?"   Continued...

 
Pope Francis attends a prayer calling for peace in Syria, in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican September 7, 2013. Pope Francis has invited people of all faiths to join a day of fasting and prayer to call for an end to the conflict in Syria on Saturday. REUTERS/Tony Gentile