VATICAN CITY – Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square for a four-hour Syria peace vigil late Saturday, answering Pope Francis’ call for a grass-roots cry for peace that was echoed by Christians and non-Christians alike in Syria and in vigils around the world.
The Vatican estimated about 100,000 took part in the Rome event, making it one of the largest rallies in the West against proposed U.S.-led military action against the Syrian regime after the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
Francis spent most of the vigil in silent prayer, but during his speech he issued a heartfelt plea for peace, denouncing those who are captivated by the idols of dominion and power and destroy God’s creation through war.
This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace! he said.
May the noise of weapons cease! he said. War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity.
In Damascus, a few dozen Syrian Christians attended a service in the al-Zaytoun Church, joining Francis’ invitation for a global participation in the day of fasting and prayer and to oppose outside military intervention in the conflict.
Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and All East presided, saying most countries supported a political solution to the crisis in Syria and few wanted military action. This is the start of the victory, he told the Damascus faithful.