The plight of Syrian civilians involved in the nation's ongoing conflict was at the heart of Pope Francis' appeal to the international community on Sunday, in an address where he also called for a renewed commitment to the protection of life at all stages.
“I follow with deep concern the dramatic fate of civilian populations involved in heavy fighting in their beloved Syria, and who are forced to leave everything behind in order to escape the horrors of war,” the Pope said Feb. 7 to crowds which almost filled St. Peter's Square.
In a wide-ranging post-Angelus address, the Pope expressed his hope that, “with generous solidarity,” the Syrian people might receive the help they need “to ensure their survival and dignity.”
The pontiff extended his appeal to the international community, and stressed that only a political solution will resolve the conflict and secure “a future of reconciliation and peace in that beloved and martyred country.”
He then led the crowds in praying the Hail Mary “to Our Lady for the beloved Syria.”
Russian assaults over the weekend have have driven tens of thousands from Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, according to Reuters.
The Pope's remarks also come days after the suspension of United Nations-brokered peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces. The talks will resume later this month.
The Syrian conflict has killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced 11 million to date.
Pope Francis also acknowledged the 38th annual “Giornata per la Vita” (“Day for Life”) in Italy, and joined Italian bishops in calling on educational and social institutions to renew their commitment to advocating for “human life from conception to its natural end.”
The pontiff said we must help society “heal from all attacks on life, daring an interior change,” which is also made manifest through works of mercy.”
“I greet and encourage Rome's university professors, and all those committed to witnessing the culture of life.”
“Mercy makes life flourish,” is the theme of this year's “Day for Life.”
The Pope also asked for prayers ahead of his apostolic trip to Mexico Feb. 11-22, as well as his first-time meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who he referred to as his “dear brother.”
After his Angelus Address, the Pope touched on the World Day of Prayer and Reflection Against the Trafficking of Persons, which is Monday.
The day aims to help trafficked persons “break the heavy chains of exploitation to regain their freedom and dignity,” the Pope said.
“We must do everything we can to destroy this crime and this unbearable disgrace.”
Pope Francis also acknowledged the upcoming Lunar New Year, wishing all those celebrating “serenity and peace within their families.”
Before leading the crowds in the recitation of the Angelus, the Pope centered his reflection on the day's Gospel which accounts Jesus calling St. Peter to follow him. In the reading, Peter and his men obey Jesus in sailing out to deep water and letting down their nets, despite the fact that they had been fishing all night to no avail. After following Christ's orders, the fishermen catch so many fish their nets are bursting. Jesus then calls Peter to follow him, telling him they will be fishers of men.
“This is the logic that drives the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Church: to seek out, 'catch' men and women.”
The Pope clarified that this does not involve proselytizing, but rather returning to people their “full dignity and freedom, through the forgiveness of sins.”
“This is the essence of Christianity: to spread the regenerating and gratuitous love of God, with an attitude of acceptance and mercy to everyone, in order that everyone may be able to encounter the tenderness of God and have the fullness of life.”
Pope Francis especially acknowledged the work of confessors, citing the example of St. Leopold Mandic and Padre Pio, whose relics are being venerated in Rome this week as part of the Jubilee of Mercy.
Confessors, he said, “are the first persons to give God's mercy by following Jesus' example.”
The Gospel challenges the faithful in their trust of Jesus, the Pope continued.
“Do we really trust the Lord's word? Or, do we let ourselves be discouraged by our failures?”
The Pope then said the current Jubilee Year of Mercy is a time when we are called to “comfort those who feel unworthy sinners before the Lord and discouraged for their mistakes, telling them the words of Jesus: 'Fear not.'"