Could Pope Use UN Visit to Help Broker Peace in Syria?

(photo: Register Files)

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Pope Francis might be able to exert diplomatic pressure to help bring peace to Syria, Iraq and other areas of conflict when he visits the United Nations next week. Speculation has been heightened after reports he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month.

Russia has close connections with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Putin reportedly wishes to take a central role in trying to form coalition of Western and Arab countries, including Syria’s Assad regime, against the Islamist terrorist network, ISIS. The Pope may also use the meeting to urge Putin to help bring peace in Ukraine, something he did when the two leaders last met in June. 

Also fueling the speculation that the Holy Father at least has the potential of helping to practically foster peace is the fact that Francis enjoys enormous global public acclaim, especially in the world of politics, giving him perhaps more weight in international diplomacy than at any time since the early years of Pope St. John Paul II. 

Exactly how he and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, might lead any peace talks is not clear, but it would be consistent with his desire that the Pope build bridges between nations and broker international agreements, as was most recently seen when he mediated to help restore U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations. The Holy Father may also extend his meeting with President Putin and any discussions over Syria to include U.S. President Barack Obama.

The region is of great concern to him: two years ago, many felt the Pope helped avert an escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2013 by holding a worldwide prayer vigil for peace. At that time, the Obama administration and other nations were supportive of targeting the Assad regime after it was accused of using chemical weapons. Many now see the regime as the “lesser of two evils,” acting as a strategic bulwark against the spread of a more menacing ISIS. 

The war-torn region, where many Christians are suffering persecution, is also foremost in the Pope’s mind as he prepares to leave for the United States.

Today, he called for a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, calling it “one of the most overwhelming human tragedies of recent decades” and stressing that “millions of people are in distressing state of urgent need”.

Voicing frustration with the international community, he said world nations seem “unable to find adequate solutions while the arms dealers continue to achieve their interests”.

In today’s meeting, promoted by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and attended by Catholic charities and bishops of the Middle East, the Pope also highlighted the particularly cruel predicament of Christians in the war-torn nations “where many brothers and sisters are oppressed because of their faith, driven from their land, kept in prison or even killed”.

Pointing out that today’s media broadcasts live images and stories pertaining to the catastrophe, Francis said: “No one can pretend not to know! Everyone is aware that this war weighs in an increasingly unbearable way on the shoulders of the poor. We need to find a solution, which is never a violent one, because violence only creates new wounds”.

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

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Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

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