Lebanese cardinal warns against ‘new drums of war’ in Syria

Omar Sanadiki | Reuters

BEIRUT — Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai appealed to world leaders to stop the war in Syria and to work for comprehensive peace through diplomatic means.

"As the great powers are beating the drums of a new war against Syria, we regret the absence of a language of peace from the mouths of senior officials in our world today," said Cardinal Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, in an address April 12 directed to the international community.

In reference to the stance of world leaders toward Syria, the cardinal said, "Most tragically, their hearts are devoid of the slightest human emotion toward the millions of innocent Syrians who have been forced to flee their land under the fire of war, its crimes, destruction, terror and violence."

"We appeal to the conscience of the great powers and the international community to work to end the war and to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace through political and diplomatic means — not military," Cardinal Rai stressed.

"The people of the Middle East are entitled to live in peace and tranquility. The declaration of war is very weak," he said, adding that peacebuilding is the ultimate in heroism. "Among the great powers, you will remember that we all know how to start wars, but we do not know how they end."

Noting that Lebanon has hosted more than 1.1 million refugees, or nearly half of its population, "at a time when most European countries have closed their doors," Cardinal Rai continued: "We ask today, did these countries which are beating the drums of war bear a fraction of the hardship due to the displacement of the Syrian population?"

Cardinal Rai's appeal came amid threats of military retaliation against Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Ghouta region. On April 13, the United States, France and the United Kingdom launched missiles on Syria, targeting sites intended to weaken the nation's chemical weapons capability.

In response, Pope Francis criticized a failure to find nonviolent means of bringing peace to Syria and other parts of the world and appealed to world leaders to work for justice and peace.

"I am deeply disturbed by the current world situation, in which, despite the instruments available to international community, it struggles to agree on joint action in favor of peace in Syria and other regions of the world," he said after praying the "Regina Coeli" with people gathered in St. Peter's Square April 15.

"While I unceasingly pray for peace and invite all people of good will to keep doing the same, I appeal once again to all political leaders so that justice and peace may prevail," he said.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow telephoned Pope Francis after the missile attack, he told reporters April 15 at his residence outside of Moscow.

"We shared the common concern about the situation in Syria, and we talked about how Christians should influence this situation to stop violence, war and so many tragic victims as we have seen in these days," he said, according to AsiaNews.

The patriarchate launched an initiative to unite Christian leaders from the East and West to promote peace and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Syria, said Father Aleksandr Volkov, spokesman for the Russian patriarchate.

Other patriarchs taking part included Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and all the East, according to Patriarch Kirill.

"Each of them has expressed a willingness to continue consultations to find a way to stop the bloodshed," he added.

The Syrian Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of Syria also publicly condemned the "brutal aggression" of the U.S.-led allied missile attack and called upon all churches in the countries that participated to likewise condemn the attack and urge their governments to work toward international peace. 

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