The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Syria, Prayer and Fasting

On Saturday Pope Francis joined 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for a four-hour prayer vigil. The vigil was in response to the pope's call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace. The focus of this call for peace is, of course, on the civil war in Syria and the planned strike now being debated here in the U.S. Throughout the world the Church's bishops joined Pope Francis in proclaiming the fast and holding similar prayer vigils. The response, however, extended well beyond the Church. Even in St. Peter's Square the crowd was swelled by many non-Christians who expressed solidarity with the pope. One man, a Hindu, said, "This is already a success, the fact that all of us here, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, atheists made an effort to fast, not to do many things, and come here from all over Italy and Europe. This is already a success." Muslims, too, were present. Indeed, several hundred members of Italy's Arab community joined in the prayers. And in Damascus, in the very heart of Syria, the grand mufti wrote a letter thanking Pope Fancis for all he had done and invited Muslims to fast as well. In his remarks to the crowd the pope said,

"This evening I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Viloence and war are never the way to peace." 

Earlier in the week the pope issued a plea for peace in the plain and clear language to which we have become accustomed:

"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 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."

The pope offers the world a strong moral argument favoring restraint. But there are also geopolitical arguments that should be raised. At this point we must ask ourselves whether a strike on Syria will achieve anything positive. Will it lessen the fighting? Will it stop the civil war? Will it stop the use of chemical weapons by either the Assad regime or the rebels or both? Will it bring about a significant shift in the balance of power in the country and the region? If an air strike leads to the eventual end of the Assad regime, what will replace it? Who exactly are the rebels and what are their motivations and goals? Are any of the armed rebels truly moderates? If we attack Syria, what might be the short- and long-term ramifications on our key ally in the region, Israel? How will Assad's ally, Iran, react? And then there's the wild card, Russia, a nation ruled today by a former KGB apparatchik. Can anyone predict the full range of unintended consequences of an American attack on Syria?

The fact that the answers to these questions do not come easily only reinforces Pope Francis's argument for restraint. That few if any of these questions have been answered publicly by the Obama administration is additional cause for concern. Indeed, one gets the idea that strategic issues are decidedly secondary, that the president's primary motivation is to save face, to salvage his personal credibility regardless of the consequences.

The above comments were written last Sunday morning before the real weirdness set in, before Secretary of State Kerry's gaff, before Putin's diplomatic coup, before the president's odd speech to the nation, before Putin's New York Times op-ed...before this strange concatenation of events. It all leads me to believe that prayer and fasting have had a positive result. Keep it up. And while you're praying, take a moment to read this story about Fatima and world peace.

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