Vatican City, Oct 12, 2016 / 04:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis begged for an end to the terrible conflict in Syria, asking for an immediate ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians, especially children.
“I want to emphasize and reiterate my closeness to all victims of the inhuman conflict in Syria. With a sense of urgency I renew my appeal, pleading, with all my strength,” the Pope said at the end of his general audience Oct. 12. “(May) those responsible ensure arrangements are made for an immediate ceasefire, which is imposed and respected at least for the time necessary to allow the evacuation of civilians, especially children, who are still trapped under the bloody bombing.”
The Pope's comments come amid the backdrop of intensified fighting in Aleppo, with hundreds of children having been killed in airstrikes in recent weeks. The already dire situation in Syria has only worsened in recent days and weeks as an attempted ceasefire collapsed and other diplomacies failed.
Less than two weeks ago, hundreds of airstrikes left neighborhoods in rebel-held eastern Aleppo battered, killing an estimated 100 people and leaving at least 50 more, including children, trapped under the rubble. The recent use of so-called bunker-busting bombs, which weigh about a ton and can blast through two meters of underground, reinforced concrete have only added to the horror and destruction in the past few days.
A humanitarian truce, called for by the United Nations and brokered this month by the United States and Russia, fell apart less than a week after its institution after U.S. forces struck a Syrian position killing dozens of soldiers, though the move was reportedly unintentional. The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, has claimed the lives of between and estimated 280,000 and 470,000 people, and forced 4.8 million to become refugees, about half of them children. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.
In his catechesis, the Pope focused on both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as found in the Gospels, emphasizing that it is through these small works that people can change the world. “The works of mercy awaken in us the need and the ability to make a living and active faith with charity. I am convinced that these simple everyday actions can make a real cultural revolution, as it was in the past,” he said.
The Church has a “preferential love for the weakest,” Francis said, emphasizing that it is often those who are closest to us who need our help the most. But it doesn’t have to be through complicated or “superhuman gestures.” “It is best to start from the most simple,” he said, adding that the Lord shows us what is “most urgent.”
In a world “unfortunately stricken with the virus of indifference,” Pope Francis said the works of mercy “are the best antidote.” “How then can we be witnesses of mercy?” he asked, noting how “Jesus says that every time we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, clothe a naked person and welcome a stranger, visit a sick person or someone in prison, we do it to Him.”
And the spiritual works of mercy are equally important to the corporal especially today, Francis said, “because they touch the soul and often make people suffer more.” “‘Bear wrongs patiently.’ It might seem like a minor thing, which makes us smile, but instead it contains a feeling of deep love,” he said. “And so also for the other six, which it is good to remember: to counsel the doubtful, to teach the ignorant, to admonish sinners, to comfort the afflicted, to forgive offenses, to pray to God for the living and for the dead.”
Promising to focus on these in his next catechesis, Francis explained that these spiritual and corporal works of mercy are given to us by the Church as a concrete way to live out compassion. “Over the centuries, many simple people have put them into practice,” such as the newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta. Her works of mercy, the Pope said, “are the traits of the face of Jesus Christ who takes care of his younger siblings to bring everyone the tenderness and closeness of God,” something we should all try to put into practice.
At the audience, Pope Francis also spoke about the Oct. 13 International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, asking for everyone to protect “our common home, promoting a culture of prevention” in order to reduce the risk to the most vulnerable among us. These natural disasters could be avoided or limited, he said, since their effects “are often due to environmental care deficiencies on the part of man.”