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Pope pleads for peace in Syria, Libya

Catholic World News - August 08, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI issued a new appeal for an end to bloodshed in Syria, and added a plea for peace in Libya, during his midday public audience on Sunday, August 7.

“I am following with great concern the dramatic and growing violence in Syria, which has caused numerous deaths and severe suffering,” the Pope told the people gathered in the courtyard of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He encouraged the faithful to pray “that efforts for reconciliation prevail over division and hatred.”

In his statement the Pontiff did not endorse efforts to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but exhorted both the government and opposition to pursue “peaceful coexistence.” However he did recognize the need for some change, calling for “an adequate response to the legitimate aspirations of the citizens.”

The Pope’s public remarks came as Syrian troops continued to crush a public uprising, provoking international outcry. By August 7, an estimated 1,600 people had been killed by soldiers who attacked peaceful demonstrators.

In Aleppo, Syria, Archbishop Jean Clement Jeanbart said that the Pope’s balanced plea should be well received by the nation’s people, “because it does not incriminate, and does not judge anyone.” Syrian Christians have expressed misgivings about calls for the overthrow of the Assad regime, fearing that the result could be the rise of a militant Islamic state.

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham explained that concern in an interview with Vatican Radio. “We are not afraid of Islam,” he said. “We are afraid of a chaos taking over, similar to that in Iraq.”

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Syria, pointed out that at present Christians are generally secure in the country, and free to practice their faith. In fact, the Vatican representative said, it is “an exemplary country in terms of harmony between different religious confessions.”

During his August 7 audience, Pope Benedict also called for an ending to fighting in Libya. He urged all parties involved in the conflict there to recognize that “the force of arms has not resolved the situation.” He called upon “international organizations” (presumably meaning NATO) as well as Libyan authorities to seek a peace plan “through negotiation and dialogue.”

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