As President Trump considers airstrikes in Syria in response to a chemical attack that killed dozens of people, including women and children, Pope Francis has called for peace in the region.
President Trump has said that he will consider initiating military action against Syria within days. The president has sent several tweets hinting at iminent military action, but on Thursday he walked these back with a tweet saying he “never said” when the United States would be attacking.
“Could be very soon or not so soon at all,” said Trump, noting that the United States has done a “great job” at removing Islamic State militants from the country.
On Tuesday, Russia vetoed a US-sponsored proposal in the United Nations, which would have launched an independent investigation into the April 7 chemical attack. The veto garnered broad condemnation from US allies.
Russia has also said that its military will retaliate for any airstrikes against Syria, meaning that US-military action could prompt a large global conflict.
Since March of 2011, Syria has been engaged in a bloody civil war, with rebel groups engaged in conflict against the Syrian army. Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad, is allied with Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia.
The situation on the ground in Syria has been disastrous for the country’s tiny Christian population. Prior to the start of the war, Christians made up about 11 percent of the population. Since then, many have been forced from their homes, particularly when the Islamic State was active in the region, and many of the country’s churches have been destroyed in the war. An estimated one-third of the country's Christian population has fled.
However, many Christians in the country find themselves supporting Assad’s regime. In a March 2016 interview, Aleppo's Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo said that he believed a full “80 percent” of the country’s Christians would support Assad in an election. Furthermore, the bishop said that the Syrian government was not actively persecuting Christians, and that Christians and Muslims had for years lived together peacefully prior to the start of the war.
The rebel groups fighting Assad are mostly Islamic-based and have attacked Christian villages.
There have been at least 200 reported chemical attacks in Syria, the medical care group UOSSM has reported. In April 2017, at least 70 people, including children, were reportedly killed in Syria by a deadly gas attack, reportedly perpetrated by Assad’s forces.
“The chemical attack in Syria on April 4, , shocks the soul. The many innocent lives targeted by these terrible tools of war cry out for humanity’s protection,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last year in response to that attack.
rnDuring his April 1 Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Syria.
“We implore fruits of peace upon the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war. This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course,” the pontiff said.
The pope condemned the recent chemical attack during Mass April 8 in St. Peter’s Square, saying that “nothing can justify” the use of chemical weapons on “defenseless people and populations.”
“There is no such thing as a good war and a bad war,” he said.