VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical
weapons after an attack killed dozens of innocent men, women and
children in Syria.
“There is no good and bad war, and nothing,
nothing can justify the use of such instruments of extermination against
defenseless people and populations,” the pope said April 8 before
concluding Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
suspected chemical-weapon attack occurred late April 7 when Syrian army
warplanes allegedly flew over and bombed the eastern town of Douma,
located 15 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to the
Reuters news agency.
The Syrian American Medical Society
Foundation reported 42 victims were killed in the attack while hundreds
of people, “the majority of whom are women and children, were brought to
local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a
Despite witness accounts, the Syrian government
denied involvement in the attack. The U.S. State Department denounced
“the regime’s history of using chemical weapons against its own people”
and said that Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashir al-Assad,
“ultimately bears responsibility for the brutal targeting of countless
Syrians with chemical weapons.”
Pope Francis prayed “for all the
dead, for the wounded, for the families who suffer” and called for world
leaders to abandon the use of war as a means of gaining peace and
“We pray that political and military leaders choose the
other way: that of negotiation, the only one that can lead to a peace
that is not that of death and destruction,” the pope said.
humanitarian aid to desperate populations during the conflict has
largely been contingent on the warring sides to agree to a temporary
cease fire, according to Stephen Colecchi, the outgoing director of the
U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace. “Sometimes the
cease-fires last, sometimes they end almost immediately after the aid
reaches them,” he said. To date, about $100 million already has been
spent in Syria.
The war, now in its seventh year, spawned a huge refugee crisis, as Syrians of all stripes fled the country.
war of attrition has left the Syrian government seemingly in charge.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “has repeatedly called for
intensive diplomatic efforts to end conflicts in a range of countries,
including Syria and (neighboring) Iraq,” stated a USCCB Office of
International Justice and Peace backgrounder from February on
international assistance and diplomacy.
Colecchi estimated that 50
percent of Syria’s Christians have fled the country. A similar
percentage of Syrians overall have either left Syria or have moved to
safer spots within the country. Neighboring Lebanon, with a population
of about 4 million, is home to 2 million Syrian refugees, he said. While
Lebanon’s hospitality is “outstanding,” Colecchi added, “Lebanon needs
for those people to be able to go back home.”
Aleppo, a major
Christian city in Syria that was the object of a monthslong siege
earlier in the war, is “half-destroyed,” Colecchi said. “There are no
schools, no hospitals.”