The U.S. bishops appealed for peace in the Middle East amid escalating violence in regions such as Syria, calling on political leaders to work for a swift and just resolution to the conflict.

“We insist that peace, which is ultimately a gift of God, must be made the goal of every nation,” said the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement.

In their remarks, the bishops underscored that peace must be sought “not only internally, but in consort with all the nations and peoples of the region.”

Bloodshed and tensions in the Middle East have risen in recent weeks as government repression of a Syrian uprising has now cost more than 8,000 people’s lives in the country.

Palestinians and Israelis in the Gaza Strip exchanged air strikes and rocket fire on March 14, and political strain has increased between Afghanistan and the United States after an alleged U.S. solider opened fire on March 11, killing 16 Afghan civilians.

Many countries have also voiced concern over Iran recently as reports circulate over the country possibly acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The bishops said that during the committee’s recent meeting issues facing the Middle East were “never far from our minds, hearts and prayers.”

They joined Pope Benedict XVI in expressing solidarity with their brother bishops who continue to guide their flocks “in the most difficult of circumstances.”

“The daily reports of conflicts, turmoil, bloodshed and violence can leave no one indifferent and unconcerned,” they said.

The bishops said that they share “a special bond with the suffering Christians throughout the Middle East,” but voiced concern for “all peoples of every faith and every nationality.”

“We urge a change of heart and mind on the part of all those who sow division and hatred,” they said. “We plead with leaders of nations to show respect for the rights and dignity of all the citizens of their respective countries.”

The bishops observed that in times of crisis and suffering people of good will must “reach across the divisions that have separated them” in order to be peacemakers.

Those in the Middle East should work to resist the “whirlwind of hatred and death that violence sustains,” and Christians and leaders of other faiths must prayerfully join forces “to offer an alternative to division, conflict and violence.”

The people of the region have an opportunity to set an example of respect and reconciliation for nations around the world, they said.