Here is the text of the intervention given by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s delegation to the Geneva II Peace Conference today.
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Mr. Secretary General,
1. Representatives of the Syrian population and of the international community come together today, at this Geneva II Conference, to take concrete steps towards a peaceful future for the Syrian people and the Middle East. Confronted with the indescribable suffering of the Syrian people, a sense of solidarity and common responsibility prompts us to engage in a dialogue which is based on honesty, mutual trust, and concrete steps. Dialogue is the only way forward. There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The Holy See is convinced that violence leads nowhere but to death, destruction and no future.
2. My Delegation is happy to contribute to this critical process, in itself a sign of a political will that gives priority to negotiations over guns, to people over inordinate power. For this reason all religious leaders, in particular, converge on this conviction that violence has to stop because too much suffering has been inflicted on all the people of Syria and on the entire region. Recent meetings of religious representatives of different confessions have reconfirmed this constructive approach that is based on the equal dignity of every person created in the image of God and open to others.
3. The time has come to take concrete steps to implement the good intentions expressed by all parties to the current conflict. In this context, the Holy See renews its urgent appeal to all the parties concerned for the full and absolute respect for humanitarian law and offers the following proposals:
a. As invoked by all men and women of good will, an immediate cease-fire without preconditions and the end to violence of all kinds should become a priority and the urgent goal of these negotiations. All weapons should be laid down and specific steps should be taken to stop the flow of arms and arms funding that feed the escalation of violence and destruction to leave room for the instruments of peace. The money invested in arms should be redirected to humanitarian assistance. The immediate cessation of violence is in the interest of all. It is a humanitarian imperative, and represents the first step to reconciliation.
b. The cessation of hostilities should be accompanied with increased humanitarian assistance and the immediate start of reconstruction. Millions have been displaced and are in life threatening situations. Family life has been disrupted. Educational and health facilities have been destroyed or made inoperative.
c. The war brought about the economic collapse of many regions of Syria. Reconstruction efforts should start together with negotiations and should be sustained by the generous solidarity of the international community. In this process, young people should be given a preferential consideration so that through their employment and work they may become protagonists for a peaceful and creative future for their country.
d. Community rebuilding calls for dialogue and reconciliation sustained by a spiritual dimension. The Holy See strongly encourages all religious faiths and communities in Syria to reach a deeper mutual knowledge, a better understanding and a restoration of trust.
e. It is important that regional and international powers favor the ongoing dialogue and that regional problems be addressed. Peace in Syria could become a catalyst of peace in other parts of the region, and a model of that peace that is so urgently needed.
4. Beyond the tragedies of the current crisis, new opportunities and original solutions for Syria and its neighbors can come about. A just approach would be to recognize that the existence of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity and pluralism should not be a negative factor or, worse, an inevitable source of conflict, but rather the possibility for every community and individual to contribute their gifts to the common good and the development of a richer and more beautiful society. There is a role for everyone where citizenship provides equal participation in a democratic society with equal rights and duties. In this way no one is forced to leave his country because of intolerance and the inability to accept differences. In fact, the equality assured by common citizenship can allow the individual to express for himself and in community with others the fundamental values all persons hold indispensable to sustain their inner identity. Such an understanding and development of society opens the way to a durable and fruitful peace.
Mr. Secretary General,
5. Since the Syrian crisis began, the Holy See has been following its developments with deep concern and has consistently advocated that all parties involved commit themselves to the prevention of violence and to the provision of humanitarian assistance to all victims. The voice of the Holy Father has been raised on numerous occasions to remind people of the futility of violence, inviting a negotiated resolution of problems, calling for a just and equitable participation of everyone in the life of society. Together with an invitation to pray for peace, He has promoted an active response on the part of Catholic organizations and institutions to the emerging needs. Memorable remains the Holy Father’s proposal for a Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East that was received worldwide with an overwhelmingly positive response.
6. Allow me to conclude by echoing the words of Pope Francis: “I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers [and sisters] and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict.” “It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue, this is the only way to peace.”
Mr. Secretary General,
The people of Syria have lived together in peace throughout history, and can do so again.