Pope condemns massacre in Syria, urges prayers, dialogue for peace

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A protester, flanked by a U.S. flag, demonstrates in Chicago May 27 in opposition to the Syrian regime. Pope Benedict XVI joined the international community in condemning a massacre in Houla, Syria, May 25-26, which left about 108 people dead, including 49 children and 34 women. (CNS photo/John Gress, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI joined the international community in condemning a massacre in Syria, and he called for Christian and Muslim leaders in the country to guide their faithful in prayer and collaboration to restore peace and calm.

The massacre in Houla May 25-26 left about 108 people dead, including 49 children and 34 women. The U.N. Security Council May 27 condemned the massacre of civilians and, while not pinning all the blame on the Syrian government, it accused the government of inappropriately using heavy weapons in a residential area.

In a statement May 28, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the massacre was “a motive of great sorrow and concern for the Holy Father and the entire Catholic community, as it is for the international community which has expressed unanimous condemnation of the incident.”

“Renewing its appeal for an end to all forms of violence, the Holy See exhorts the parties involved and the entire international community to spare no efforts to resolve this crisis through dialogue and reconciliation,” Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican also said religious leaders and those who believe in God “are called to commit themselves to promoting the peace which is so much sought after, for the good of the whole population.”

The United Nations estimates that about 9,000 civilians have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government began in March 2011.

A Syrian Catholic priest told Catholic News Service May 30 that atrocities have been occurring every day for more than a year, but “what happened in Houla obviously is something beyond the international community’s understanding,” so it is finally taking notice.

“As a church, we should not be proud of our position so far,” said the priest who asked not to be identified in order to protect the work he is doing in the country. While some priests, religious and faithful have “taken the side of the poor, not in a political way,” and are promoting nonviolence and dialogue, others are taking sides politically, he said.

“Being part of the conflict is not living the Gospel,” he said.

“Everyone is afraid. There is a lack of information, and we don’t know what the future holds,” the priest said.

It is true, he said, that there are Muslim fundamentalists who could take advantage of a regime change in Syria, but the best way to avoid extremists coming to power is for all citizens to work together.

“We have to acknowledge that right now all Syrian citizens are losers. Right now people think that if ‘they’ win, then I lose. But we all can lose. We need to rebuild together,” he said.

— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

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