VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is to assemble diplomats and experts next month for a surprise meeting on how to resolve the conflict in Syria, the Register has learned.
The meeting, to be hosted at the Vatican by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will take place Jan. 13, just a few days before U.N.-backed peace talks begin on ending the conflict.
The Geneva II Middle East peace conference, to take place Jan. 22, will bring together the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition to discuss a possible transitional government with full executive powers.
The Vatican meeting is aimed at “influencing” the peace talks so that the most just and lasting solution can be achieved, according to a diplomatic source. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences confirmed the meeting to the Register but was unable to give further details, saying it was still making preparations for the seminar. However, other sources have said the planning is already well advanced.
On Sept. 7 this year, Pope Francis led a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. The initiative, which attracted participation across the world, is credited by many for helping to avert a U.S. military strike on Syria after a chemical-weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, said the vigil produced a “miracle” by helping to prevent what many viewed was an imminent escalation of the conflict. Shortly before the vigil, the Holy See also took the rare step of assembling diplomats accredited to the Holy See, during which officials presented them with a detailed peace plan for the country. Not since the Iraq War of 2003 has the Holy See been so active in trying to broker peace.
Pope’s Personal Initiative
The impetus comes from the Pope himself, who is known to be deeply concerned about the Syrian conflict, particularly the Christians living there. He has frequently appealed for peace since September, most recently calling for the release of 12 Orthodox nuns abducted by armed Islamist rebels in Maaloula, a predominantly Christian city north of Damascus.
On Jan. 13, the same day as the Vatican meeting on Syria, the Pope is expected to make further appeals for peace when he delivers his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See. Observers say the conflict will also rank highly in his list of concerns to be mentioned during his urbi et orbi address on Christmas Day.
The Geneva II peace talks, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. peace envoy to Syria, in close cooperation with the U.S. and Russia, have frequently run in to trouble. Initially proposed for the end of May this year, the talks have been postponed several times. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced at the end of November that the conference would be held on Jan. 22.