In his Angelus address on Sunday, September 1, 2013, Pope Francis addressed a topic on the minds of many in this month of Our Lady of Sorrows: the continuing civil war in Syria, and the possibility of U.S. intervention. The translation prepared by Vatican Radio captures the Holy Father's sense of urgency:
There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming. I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children [who] will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!
These are strong words, not chosen lightly, and they are clearly aimed at those who will be deciding in the coming days whether to rain bombs down upon a country with little hope that the ensuing devastation will end the fighting. "Peace," Pope Francis declared, "is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected." But "Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence."
Recent history bears out his words. As the United States prepared in the fall and winter of 2002 to invade Iraq, Pope John Paul II and the future Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, both spoke out strongly against the invasion. Their pleas, stressing the Church's just-war theory, were ignored by the Bush administration, and ten years after the invasion in March 2003, Iraq is a disaster. Over 90 percent of the Iraqi Christian population has fled the country, and many of those Iraqi Christians took refuge in Syria. Now, as an Islamic insurgency has torn the country apart, those Iraqi Christians are threatened once again, along with their Syrian Christian brothers.
To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.
On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00 [1 P.M to 6 P.M. EDT], we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.
When Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger opposed the Iraq War, many Catholics in the United States argued that their words were not clear, or that it did not matter what the pope said, because the decision to go to war is a "prudential judgment" (thus illustrating that they did not understand what the cardinal virtue of prudence is, and what a prudential judgment entails). As the U.S. Congress prepares to debate President Obama's request for authorization to bomb a country that presents no threat whatsoever to the United States, there can be no mistaking Pope Francis's message:
Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!