The situation in Syria is unimaginably horrific. The current civil conflict has caused over 100,000 deaths, as many as four million refugees, and incalculable human suffering. The present regime is notorious for its brutality and indifference to human rights, and its disregard for norms of decency and humanity. The recent reported use of chemical weapons by the regime against civilians shocks the conscience. Yet many of the rebels are associated with terrorist groups that have targeted America and our allies, and have also used violence against civilians.
The use of chemical weapons has prompted the President to consider striking Syrian targets with military force, and he has announced that he will be seeking Congressional approval for that action.
This tragedy could easily be dismissed as yet another instance of the long history of inhumanity in that region, which has been plagued by war and violence for as long as history can recall. War-weary Americans could easily be excused for turning their eyes away from these terrible events, or for throwing their hands up in despair at what seems a hopeless and intractable situation. It is also understandable for people to reflexively support military action, out of an impulse of revulsion over the use of such terrible weapons, or from a desire just to do something in response.
But for Christians, we have a sacred obligation, which comes to us from our Lord Himself, to approach this situation differently. We must work for peace, prevent war, and heal those who are ravaged by conflict. We must make sure that voices for peace are heard, amidst the calls for action and war. War should always be the absolute last resort of national policy, even in the face of crimes against humanity.
Christian leaders in Syria have been calling for the United States not to take military action. They have already been suffering from oppression and war, and will bear the brunt of further violence. We need to listen to them, and heed their advice.
Pope Francis has strongly called for people to seek the path of peace in Syria, reminding us that “war breeds war, violence breeds violence”. One need only view the video of his Sunday Angelus address, to get a sense of how our Holy Father is moved by the situation in Syria, and how desperately he wishes for peace.
The Holy Father has specifically called for us to pray and fast this Saturday, September 7, for peace in Syria. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have asked Americans to contact Congress to urge them to choose the path of diplomacy instead of conflict.
This last Sunday, the Communion antiphon included the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
This is a challenging time for all Christians, and all people of good will. War breeds war, and violence breeds violence, but peace can also breed peace.