Pope Francis last weekend led what the Vatican called an unprecedented papal gesture for peace, and was joined by religious leaders around the world in prayer that military action may be averted in Syria. Following is a roundup of actions and reactions to the situation. Rome: Pope Francis calls selfishness the cause of warLeading a crowd at St. Peter's Square in prayer for peace in Syria, Pope Francis said that war is ultimately caused by selfishness, which can be overcome only though expressions of fraternity and never with violence. "Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation," the pope said Sept. 7 before an estimated 100,000 people. The pope had called the prayer vigil less than a week earlier, as the central event of a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world. The Vatican called the vigil an unprecedented papal gesture for peace, by virtue of its scale and prominence of location. It took place the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European leaders to make President Barack Obama's case for a military strike on the government of Syria President Bashar Assad, as punishment for the alleged use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there.Washington: Faithful urged to raise voices for peaceAs American policymakers debated military intervention in Syria, Cardinal Donald Wuerl joined Pope Francis and Catholics around the world in calling for peace and a just solution to the violence that has wracked the country and other parts of the world. "Today we pray for those who are a part of our human family and who endure terrible acts of violence. We also invoke God's blessings on those who strive to contain violence around the world," Cardinal Wuerl said during a special Mass Sept. 7 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. "We ask God to give all of us the strength to walk in the light of God's love and that we might be true agents of human solidarity, justice and true peace." The Mass was one of dozens of liturgies and prayer services across the U.S. in response to Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world. "As an expression of solidarity with all the victims who suffer, especially the children, particularly in Syria but throughout the Middle East, we raise our voices in supplication for peace and reconciliation," Cardinal Wuerl said during his homily.New York: U.N. nuncio calls military strikes 'unjustified'Military strikes on Syria are unjustified and will create a far larger humanitarian disaster for people already suffering from hunger, displacement and critical lack of medical care, said the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations. Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt urged, instead, that world leaders work toward a "cessation of violence, not an escalation of violence" in Syria during a Mass Sept. 7 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The Mass was celebrated in conjunction with Pope Francis' request for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for world peace, and particularly for a peaceful resolution to Syria's civil war. "A cease-fire, even if only partial, would permit humanitarian assistance to reach at least the hardest hit areas of the country," Archbishop Chullikatt told those who attended the liturgy. "Helping Syria means finding political and humanitarian solutions through dialogue and reconciliation, not intrusionary military tactics. As winds of war howl around Syria in this moment, we urge building and restoring peace through all options and alternatives, not yet exhausted. How can we think of military strikes as the only alternative? The end cannot justify the means," he said.Istanbul: Aid agencies fear increase in Syrian refugeesTanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country. He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched "tens of thousands" pour into neighboring Turkey as he did. "It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work," Kahiaian told Catholic News Service Sept. 8 from near his home in Istanbul's Kumkapi district. Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul's Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm in Turkey because of his numerous languages. "I speak Turkish and I am doing for them a lot of business in Turkish clothes with Arabic countries. But the people on the border have nothing," he said. "If there are (air) strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more." Jerusalem: Christians, Muslims join pope in peace prayerAt the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, the stone that traditionally has represented Jesus' agony was scattered with notes in different languages — all asking for peace in Syria. Christian leaders of the Holy Land gathered there Sept. 7, as Christians and Muslims all over the world prayed with Pope Francis for Syria. In the West Bank and in Turkey, in Canada and the United States people gathered, responding to the papal call for prayer and fasting. "We prayed for peace for Syria and for Egypt," said Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center. "We were resisting the other call for war with a call to stop the (possible U.S. air) strike and save Syria and Egypt. Everybody was really praying. There is no fear of retaliation. All the attention is focused on (the Syrian people)," he told Catholic News Service. Following the prayers, the courtyard of the church was lit by hundreds of candles as the worshippers joined in a small candlelight procession. In front of one of the ancient olive trees, the word "peace" was spelled out with stones.—CNS{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0913/syriaside/{/gallery}