In his first touch of international peace and in what is effectively his first entrance onto the stage of major world politics, he made an impassioned call for peace last Sunday, urging World leaders to embrace peaceful co-existence and shun violence.
Though the pope did not name the United States or any other western power but his rejection of the military option was crystal clear, saying in a message to the G20 leaders gathered in St Petersburg: “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions [regarding Syria] and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”
In an outspoken Angelus homily last Sunday, Pope Francis, while firmly condemning the use of chemical weapons, argued that “war begets war, violence begets violence”. The “only way to peace”, he said, was through “encounter and dialogue”.
On that occasion, the pope also announced that on Saturday he would hold a four-hour vigil of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. During his Wednesday public audience, Francis called on the Catholic Church worldwide “to live this day intensely”, in the process inviting other Christians and those of other faiths to join in the vigil, “in their own places and in their own way”. The pope also called on Romans to come to St Peter’s Square on Saturday evening to pray for “the great gift of peace”, adding: “May the cry for peace rise up loud and clear from all the Earth.”
Throughout the week, the Holy See has stayed on message with the Vatican consistently repeating the call for peace. On Monday, Msgr Mario Toso of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said an armed intervention in Syria ran the risk of turning into a world war.
Yesterday, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, summoned all the ambassadors to the Holy See to repeat the pope’s call for peace, again arguing against a military intervention.
Furthermore, Archbishop Mamberti indicated the Vatican’s own “road map” for a resolution to the Syrian crisis, calling for dialogue that would involve all elements in Syrian society.
He also argued against any solution that would see Syria divided into spheres of influence thus threatening its “territorial integrity”, adding that the Syria of tomorrow must guarantee a place for minorities, in particular for Christian minorities.
Saturday’s prayer vigil for Syria could represent a watershed moment in the fledgling papacy of Francis. Will his obvious popularity translate into something practical, galvanising worldwide support against a US-led intervention?