Pope launches Holy Land visit with Syria peace appeal

AMMAN Sat May 24, 2014 2:50pm EDT

1 of 14. Jordan's King Abdullah (R) meets Pope Francis at the Royal Palace in Amman May 24, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Medichini/Pool

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Pope Francis made an urgent appeal for an end to Syria's devastating civil war and an unscripted condemnation of the arms industry on Saturday at the start of his first trip to the Holy Land as pontiff.

Speaking in Jordan, Francis repeatedly stressed the need to overcome differences and press for lasting peace in the Middle East.

It was a message the Argentinian pope delivered first in a speech at a royal palace, then to an open air mass, and finally and most forcefully at a church near the River Jordan where he pleaded for a political solution to Syria's "lacerating" conflict and an end to the arms trade which he said fuels war.

"May the violence cease and may humanitarian law be respected, thus ensuring much needed assistance to those who are suffering," he said. "May all parties abandon the attempt to resolve issues by the use of arms and return to negotiations."

More than 160,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict and millions have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan.

Peace talks in Geneva collapsed three months ago and with no immediate prospect of their resumption, fighting continues between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebel fighters, both armed and reinforced by powerful international players.

"May God convert those who have projects of war. May he convert weapons manufacturers and traffickers so they become constructors of peace," the pope said, departing from the prepared text of his remarks.

Bombs, air strikes, gun battles and alleged chemical weapons attacks have killed 200 people daily in Syria, with government and rebel forces alike accused of atrocities.

Close to three million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. While the refugees are from all faiths, Christians feel threatened by radical Sunni Muslims now leading the military insurgency against Assad.

CHRISTIAN DECLINE

Francis was speaking on the first day of a delicate trip aimed at promoting an enduring peace in the Middle East and bringing hope to its dwindling Christian population.

Conflict across the region, including the Arab revolts of recent years and the civil war in Syria, has accelerated a historic decline in the Christian population.

In a speech to Jordan's King Abdullah and religious dignitaries in Amman, Francis said the Middle East was still plagued by "continuing grave tensions" but praised the Western-backed kingdom for its efforts to end years of conflict.

"This great goal urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he told the monarch, whose country is one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Key to that goal was mutual tolerance between faiths, said Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

"Religious freedom is in fact a fundamental human right and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world," he said.

Abdullah, whose Hashemite family traces its descent from the Prophet Mohammad, said Islam was a religion of harmony, mercy and justice, and that Jordan had worked to reject "the false claims of those who spread hatred and sow division.

"Let me say, forthrightly, that Arab Christian communities are an integral part of the Middle East," Abdullah said.

Following his meeting with the monarch, Francis celebrated Mass in an Amman stadium where a crowd of around 20,000 endured the heat to listen to him speak from a platform shaded by a canopy in the yellow and white colors of the Vatican, and flanked by pictures of the pope and the king.

A Muslim call to prayer sounded out nearby as the pope concluded his homily, in which he stressed the need to work together to overcome divisions.

"Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle," he said.

Despite his plea, some expressed fears for their future in a region where Christianity is rooted.

Thamer Boulus, a 45-year-old Iraqi teacher, said he fled the city of Mosul with his family because he was receiving death threats as a Christian.

"I want to immigrate anywhere there is safety for me and my family. Religious extremism is threatening Christians," he said.

Playing down the issue of his own security, the Vatican said before the visit that Francis wanted to travel in a normal car and would eschew bulletproof vehicles. He was driven from the airport in a modest white car and left the stadium on the back of an open-topped vehicle, from which he reached over several times to embrace people.

When he reached the Jordan river, the 77-year-old pope walked down alone to the water's edge, leaning over to scoop some water onto his forehead.

He stood silently for two minutes, his hands clasped in prayer, at the site where tradition says Jesus was baptized.

On Sunday morning Francis flies by helicopter to Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Comments (4)
hiramsmaxim wrote:
The Pope and the Prince are more alike than dissimilar. There is a special mission for the Pope but it is not of God, but it is Gods will.

May 24, 2014 10:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
AdamNeira wrote:
Syria’s Abdullah Dardari, former deputy prime minister of economic affairs, made the following comments yesterday. (He was removed from office due to his conflict with Rami Makhlouf, Bashar Assad’s cousin March 2011.)

See http://media.podhoster.com/ecfr/aldadar18314i.mp3

“In Syria $109 million per day is lost on GDP, 9,000 Syrians fall under the poverty line and 300 are displaced. Every week 10,000 Syrians lose their job, 2500 Syrians lose their ability to feed themselves in a country that produced wheat 12,000 years ago, 6,000 deaths a month. In a nutshell the enemy of the Syrian people is the war itself. Ending the war is the moral thing to do. Whatever it costs the war must be ended. An inclusive middle ground is needed that will facilitate some sort of democratic transition and then reconstruction. An unjust peace is better than a just war.” – End of the summary of his Comments

I would also add in the coming drought this summer; Cases of acute flaccid paralysis polio spreading exponentially; MERS cases now reported; New born children with severe deformities as a result of chemical weapons; Barrel bombings; Tunnel bombs; Suicide bombers; OPCW mission to remove last 8% of most toxic chemicals stalled as the M5 “Wages of Fear” Highway travelling north from Damascus is too dangerous. Plenty of konkurs etc. The list of horrors goes on and on. To paraphrase Albert Camus you have now “Syria La Peste 2014”

What are the options right now ? How can we find the breathing space, catalyst or “Middle Ground” Dardari speaks of ? How can we find a platform from where we can build trust and find some light in the darkness ?

Option One – The Syrian Civil War rages. Many people have been/are being/will be killed, maimed, injured and/or displaced. Many leaders are suffering from policy paralysis yet they will still pursue the same strategy. The bloodshed continues…

Option Two – The optimal solution is heeded. i.e. Real co-operative ceasefires and de-escalation takes place nationwide ASAP. A catalysing event is held to “cement” the positive momentum otherwise a vacuum will develop. Think…International Peace Conference : Special Focus “Syria and Middle East Emergency Polio Vaccination Program 2014” SMEEPVP2014 Tent of Meeting style. 4 days. Mon. To Thurs. 08:30 to 13:30. 400 guests. 100 from Syria. M/E City with real gravitas. Treaty/Peace of Westphalia format with set piece/time limited discussions and more open ended deliberations. International oversight/management committee appointed. Organisational/Command and Control Structure created. Lines of communication established. Follow Up.

Are there any precedents/trial balloons for such an initiative ?

Yes !

There already exists some nascent structures to facilitate co-operation on the health stage in the region. i.e. The Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance.

www.mecidsnetwork.org/content/background.

This organisation proves that co-operation on health issues is possible between Jordan, Israel, the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. This reach can be expanded to include Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Israel’s health sector is world renowned for best practices.)

Pope Francis has shown he is on the front foot today by declaring straight off the bat that “urgent steps are required to solve the Syrian conflict” in his meeting with the King of Jordan. Let’s see how wise other “leaders” are in the coming hours and days…

Prayers for Syria.

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

- Theodore Parker 1857

May 24, 2014 3:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MoozeTraks wrote:
hiramsmaxim – crawl back into your slimepit, mason. I hear there are three jesters looking for you – be careful.

May 24, 2014 5:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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