On the first day of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Francis met with a group of nearly 600 refugees and disabled youth, urging them to offer their prayers and sufferings for an end to violence. During the May 24 meeting at Bethany beyond the Jordan, the Pope encouraged those gathered to build a peaceful society through prayer and “offering your daily efforts and struggles to God. In this way your prayer will become particularly precious and effective.” “We are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East,” said Pope Francis. “I pray once more that reason and restraint will prevail...May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war, and may he convert those who make and sell arms.” The Pope departed from his prepared remarks with an emphatic denunciation of the arms trade. “This is the root of evil! Hatred, the desire for money,” he exclaimed, linking it to “the manufacturing of arms and the sale of arms.” “This ought to make us think — who is behind (it) that gives to everyone, to everyone who is involved in conflict, the arms for continuing the conflict?” he reflected. Pope Francis continued, “let us think, and also in our hearts, let us say a word for these poor people, criminals, that they may be converted.” The Holy Father then spoke gently to the disabled youth, saying, “despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope.” “You have a place in God’s heart and in my prayers. I am grateful that so many of you are here, and for your warmth and enthusiasm,” he assured them. The Holy Father went on to express his gratitude to the Jordanian authorities for their welcome of refugees, and urged the international community “not to leave Jordan alone in the task of meeting the humanitarian emergency.” He also renewed his “heartfelt appeal for peace in Syria.” “May all parties abandon the attempt to resolve issues by the use of arms and return to negotiation,” he stressed. “A solution will only be found through dialogue and restraint, through compassion for those who suffer, through the search for a political solution and through a sense of fraternal responsibility.” The pope concluded by praying that God “strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing.”
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