Pope Francis Seeks Resolution to Syria Conflict

Saturday, 21 Dec 2013 10:31 AM

By Edward Pentin

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Pope Francis is to assemble diplomats and experts next month for an impromptu meeting on how to resolve the conflict in Syria.

The meeting, to be hosted at the Vatican by Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will take place Jan. 13, just a few days before U.N.-backed peace talks begin on ending the conflict in Geneva.

Editor’s Note: Do You Approve of Pope Francis? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

The Geneva II Middle East peace conference, to take place Jan. 22, will bring together members of the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition to discuss a possible transitional government with full executive powers.

The Vatican meeting is aimed at “influencing” the peace talks so that the most just and lasting solution can be achieved, a diplomatic source said. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences confirmed the meeting but was unable to further details, saying it was still making preparations for the seminar. However, other sources have said that planning is already well advanced.

On Sept. 7 this year, Pope Francis led a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. The initiative, which attracted participation across the world, is credited by many for helping to avert a U.S. military strike on Syria after a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, said the vigil produced a “miracle” by helping to prevent what many viewed was an imminent escalation of the conflict. Shortly before the day of prayer and fasting, the Holy See also took the rare step of assembling diplomats accredited to the Holy See, during which officials presented them with a detailed peace plan for the country. Not since the Iraq War of 2003 has the Holy See been so active in trying to broker peace.

The impetus comes from the Pope himself, who is known to be deeply concerned about the Syrian conflict. He has a particular concern for the Christians living there and frequently appealed for peace. Earlier this month he appealed for the release of 12 Orthodox nuns abducted by armed Islamist rebels in Maaloula, a predominantly Christian city north of Damascus.

On Jan. 13, the same day as the Vatican meeting on Syria, the Pope is expected to make further appeals for peace when he delivers his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See. Observers say the conflict will also rank highly in his list of concerns to be mentioned during his urbi et orbi address — the message Popes traditionally give to “the city and to the world” on Christmas Day.

The Geneva II peace talks, led by U.N. peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in close cooperation with the U.S. and Russia, have frequently run in to trouble. Initially proposed for the end of May this year, the talks have been postponed several times. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the conference would be held on 22 Jan. at the end of November.
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Editor’s Note: Do You Approve of Pope Francis? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin —

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