Vatican Summit on Syria Ends with Calls for Immediate Ceasefire

Political Experts and Church Leaders Say Ending Hostilities is «Humanitarian Imperative».

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A one-day Vatican-hosted workshop of political experts and leading Church figures concluded yesterday with a call for an immediate ceasefire in Syria.

An end to hostilities is a “humanitarian imperative” the participants said in a statement, and urged generous help towards reconstruction. They also called for inter-community dialogue and the full participation of all regional and global actors.

The Jan. 13 meeting, hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican Gardens, was held ahead of the Geneva II conference that begins Jan. 22. The UN-backed talks will aim to forge an agreement between the Syrian regime and opposition groups to form a transitional government. 

The talks also immediately preceded a visit to the Vatican Jan. 14 by the US Secretary of State John Kerry who is taking a leading in role in the talks, as well as the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The theme of the meeting was “Syria: With a death toll of 126,000 and 300,000 orphans in 36 months of war, can we remain indifferent?”.

“The horror of violence and death in Syria has brought the world to a renewed reflection, and thereby to a new chance for peace,” the experts said in the final statement. “Let us therefore all work in harmony and trust to chart an urgent path to reconciliation and reconstruction.”

The participants listed a seven point plan for peace beginning with an “immediate cease-fire” without political preconditions. This includes an end to the arming of both sides by “foreign powers”, they said, adding that it is a “humanitarian imperative” that represents the “first step to reconciliation.”

Humanitarian assistance should be immediate, they continued and they called on the international community to provide generous “financial and human support” to help rebuild the country “before all political and social questions are resolved.”

The young and the poor should be given a “preferential role” in these reconstruction efforts, they said, as the Syrian economy is in a “state of collapse” and youth unemployment is “pervasive.”

The political experts also advocated  “inter-community dialogue”. After years of inter-communal violence, the statement said the Holy See is “committed to supporting all religious faiths and communities” in Syria.

The participants, recognising the country’s conflict is fuelled by outside powers, noted positively that the Syrian people themselves have lived in peace throughout most of their history “and can do so again.” But they also acknowledged that the regional conflicts that have “engulfed Syria” must also be addressed “in order to create the conditions for long-lasting peace.”

Geneva II must ensure “inclusive participation” of all parties to the conflict, within the region and beyond, they added. And they noted the “vital importance” of the recent agreement reached between Iran and the UN Security Council on their nuclear program. The agreement could provide a “vital foundation” to lasting peace in Syria, they said, as would a breakthrough in the current Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

“These, then, are preconditions for lasting peace,” they concluded: “an immediate cessation of violence; the start of rebuilding; inter-communal dialogue; and progress to resolve all regional conflicts, and the participation of all regional and global actors in the pursuit of peace in Geneva II.” 

Such measures, they added, would provide a “base of security and reconstruction upon which lasting peace can be built.” 

“Political transformation is needed,” they said, which is “not a precondition for ending violence” but will rather “accompany the cessation of violence and the rebuilding of trust.”

They closed by quoting Pope Francis’ words from the vigil of prayer for peace in Syria last September, in which he said that “violence and war are never the way to peace.”

Workshop presentations were made by leading political experts including the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Pyotr Stegny, a former Russian ambassador to Israel and expert in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy in the Middle East.

On the ZENIT website:

Full Statement of PAS Workshop on Syria

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