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I greet H.E. the Dean and the Most Excellent Ambassadors present and I thank you for your presence, which I appreciate particularly because the invitation was transmitted at the last minute. Today’s meeting is a new expression of the solicitude of His Holiness Pope Francis and of the Holy See for peace in the world, with special attention to the Middle East and, in particular, to Syria, a solicitude of which we saw a very eloquent example on the occasion of the Angelus prayer last Sunday.
The Pope’s heartbroken appeal gives voice to the desire for peace that rises from every part of the earth, from the heart of all men of good will. In the concrete historical situation, marked by violence and wars in many places, the Pope’s voice is raised at a particularly grave and delicate moment in the long Syrian conflict, which has already witnessed too much suffering, devastation and sorrow, to which are added the many innocent victims of the attacks of last August 21, which aroused horror and concern in global public opinion because of the consequences of the possible use of chemical weapons. One cannot remain silent in face of such events, and the Holy See hopes that the competent institutions will clarify matters and that those responsible render account to justice. Such deplorable acts have aroused these reactions also in the international realm. For his part, the Holy Father has made present with gravity and firmness that “there is a judgment of God and also a judgment of history on our actions from which we cannot escape” (Angelus, September 1, 2013), confirming that it is never the use of violence that brings peace, but that violence calls for violence!
Since the beginning of the conflict, the Holy See has been sensitive to the cry for help which reached it from the Syrian people, in particular from the Christians, not failing immediately to manifest clearly its position, characterized, as in other cases, by the consideration of the centrality of the human person — regardless of his ethnic group or religion – and of the search for the common good of the whole society. Suffice it to recall here, first of all, the heartbroken appeals of Benedict XVI on the occasion of the Urbi et orbi Message and of his addresses to the Diplomatic Corps. Many times he invited to “put an end to a conflict which will not see winners but only defeats” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, January 7, 2013), recalling the need to open “a constructive dialogue” between the parties and to foster humanitarian aid to the populations. Recalled, moreover, is the desire expressed by him to send a delegation of Bishops and Cardinals to Syria to manifest his solicitude on the occasion of the Synod of Bishops, an initiative which, however, had to be replaced later by a visit to the region of His Excellency Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”
From the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis has also made reference on many occasions to the situation in Syria, beginning with his first Urbi et orbi Easter Message, less than a month after his election, in which he asked “how much suffering must still be inflicted before there is success in finding a political solution to the crisis?” The Pope then expressed again his own concerns, in particular in his address on June 5, 2013, to the participants in the meeting of coordination between the Catholic charitable organizations that operate in the context of the crisis in Syria, as well as at the Angelus of last August 25, sounding a call “so that the noise of weapons stops” in a “war between brothers,” which has witnessed “the multiplication of massacres and atrocities.”
The Holy Father was also able to speak about the question with several religious and political leaders of a few countries, the last being King Abdullah II of Jordan. Moreover, repeated addresses have not been lacking from the Holy See’s Permanent Observers to the United Nations Organization, be it in New York or Geneva, as well as other statements of the Press Office, which have taken up the clear position expressed by the Pontiffs. The Apostolic Nuncio at Damascus , H.E. Monsignor Mario Zenari, also confirmed many times the position of the Holy See and, his remaining in the post manifests the solicitude and closeness of the Holy Father to the beloved Syrian population. Noted by all are the tragic consequences of the conflict, which has left more than 110,000 dead, innumerable wounded, more than 4 million internal evacuees and more than 2 million refugees in neighboring countries.
In face of this tragic situation it is an absolute priority to make the violence cease, which continues to sow death and destruction and which risks involving not only the other countries of the region, but also of having unforeseeable consequences in various parts of the world. To the appeal to the parties not to close themselves in their own interests but to undertake with courage and determination the way of meeting and negotiation, overcoming blind opposition, is added the appeal to the International Community to make every effort to promote, without further delay, clear initiatives for peace in that Nation, always based on dialogue and negotiation.
Together with a commitment for the cessation of violence, there is the supreme importance to recall the exigency and urgency of respect of humanitarian law. Revealed likewise is the need for urgent humanitarian assistance to a great part of the population and in this aspect I am grateful for the generosity of so many of your governments in favor of the suffering Syrian population. For her part, the Catholic Church is committed in the front line with all the means at her disposal in the humanitarian assistance to the population, Christian and non-Christian. I mention some of the elements that the Holy See considers important for an eventual plan for the future of Syria and which you will also find in the document that has been handed to you.
Among the general principles that must direct the search for a just solution to the conflict, I point out the following three:
First of all, it is indispensable to do one’s utmost for the revival of the dialogue between the parties and for the reconciliation of the Syrian people.
Then the unity of the country must be preserved, avoiding the establishment of different zones for the various components of the society.
Finally, next to the unity of the country, its territorial integrity must also be guaranteed.
It will be important to ask all the groups – in particular those who hope to recover posts of responsibility in the country – to offer guarantees that in tomorrow’s Syria there will be posts for all, also and in particular for the minorities, including the Christians. The concrete application of the said principle can take various forms, but in every case the importance of respect for human rights cannot be forgotten and, in particular, that of religious liberty. Likewise, it is important to have as reference the concept of citizenship, on the basis of which everyone, regardless of their ethnic or religious membership, has the same citizen’s standard and dignity, with equal rights and duties, free “to profess publicly their own religion and to contribute to the common good” (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, January 7, 2013). Finally, a cause of particular concern is the growing presence in Syria of extremist groups, often coming from other countries. Hence the importance of exhorting the population and also opposition groups to distance themselves from such extremists, to isolate them and to oppose terrorism openly and clearly.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]