Calling the war in Syria “inhumane,” Pope Francis called for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid for those in need and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.
“My thoughts often turn to that beloved and martyred Syria where the war has intensified, especially in eastern Ghouta,” he said Feb. 25 after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter Square.
“This month of February has been one of the most violent in seven years of conflict: hundreds, thousands of civilian victims – children, women, the elderly. Hospitals have been hit and people can’t get anything to eat,” he said.
“All of this is inhumane,” he said. “Evil cannot be fought with evil. And war is an evil.”
The pope then launched a “heartfelt appeal that the violence immediately end, that access to humanitarian aid – food and medicine – be given and that the injured and ill be evacuated” from an area under rebel control.
The pope’s appeal came after intensified fighting in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.
Although the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Feb. 24 for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, government forces continued their weeklong offensive against the rebel-held suburb of Ghouta. Humanitarian groups reported more than a dozen civilians were hospitalized for symptoms suspected to be associated with a chlorine gas attack.At least 500 people had been killed in the fighting in the week before the pope spoke, and the remaining residents – 400,000 people, down from 2 million before the civil war started in 2011 – continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
Later, during Mass in the Church of St. Gelasius on Rome’s northeast edge, the pope said if people listen to Jesus and do as he urges them, they can be certain that he will see them through even the darkest times.
“Jesus always prepares us for our trials and he never leaves us alone. Never,” the pope said.
Following his usual pattern for Sunday parish visits, Pope Francis reached the church in the early afternoon. After shaking hundreds of hands, blessing dozens of babies and posing for a handful of selfies with young people, the pope went to the parish soccer field to meet the children and teens involved in the parish catechism and sports programs.
“You’re soaked!” the pope told the youngsters after a heavy ran began.
“Life is like this,” he said, explaining that some days will be sunny, and sometimes storms unexpectedly blow in.
“What’s a Christian to do? Go forward with courage,” knowing that Jesus always is near and is always willing to forgive, he told them.
Moving indoors, the pope met with the elderly members of the parish and greeted each of them individually. He asked couples how long they had been married and asked others how they were feeling. One woman told him that she had a cold she just could not shake. He suggested she try some grappa, a strong grape-based alcoholic drink.
Pope Francis thanked the group of elders for all they do for the church and the world. Even if they do not feel like they are accomplishing great things, he said, they have been charged with “keeping the embers of faith alive” with their prayers and their witness.
– VATICAN CITY (CNS)