Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) urged believers to join the call of Pope Francis and spend the day on September 7 in prayer for peace in Syria.
“With all my heart I address you all – bishops, priests, consecrated persons, and the laity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and abroad – with a request to join the call of the pope and the nearest Saturday ‘with one heart and one voice’ with all the Universal Church to dedicate your prayers for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and around the world,” the hierarch said in a statement.
Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic bishops warned against military intervention in neighboring Syria.
“The bishops denounce the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but they call for being aware of the risks of a potential military strike,” the bishops said in a statement following their monthly meeting Sept. 4.
The bishops said foreign intervention poses “grave, grave dangers and repercussions of severe consequences for the countries of the region” and stressed that the war in Syria should be resolved “diplomatically and peacefully, away from the use of arms.”
The bishops praised Pope Francis’ call for prayer, fasting and repentance for peace in Syria and his direct appeal to the international community for dialogue and negotiation for peace.
They urged parishes and monasteries to organize participation with Pope Francis in his prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 7 and urged local Catholics to spend that evening in prayer and repentance.
“I am adding my voice to all the statements made by most of my brother Eastern patriarchs, several episcopal conferences, the archbishop of Canterbury, and especially His Holiness Pope Francis and his representative at the United Nations in Geneva,” said Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III in an Aug. 30 statement.
“I state categorical rejection by Syria’s Catholic Churches, including the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Arab countries and those of the expansion, of any foreign intervention in Syria and any attack or intervention of any sort whatsoever.”
Patriarch Gregorios III, a native-born Syrian, is the president of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, as well as patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Church in communion with Rome.
Patriarch Gregorios III said that even in the wake of continued violence and reported use of chemical weapons, his “conviction is still sure: no victory through weapons and violence.”
Focusing on “defining the responsibility of this or that side for tragedies, massacres and the use of chemical weapons, though legitimate, is secondary” to reaching a peaceful solution, he said.
The patriarch explained that violence “leads to violence and weapons to other weapons. The parties to the conflict will continue to fight to the bitter end, as they all have an abundance of weapons.”
“The tragic situation that Syria has been experiencing for the last two and a half years is the strongest evidence of the primary importance of seeking the earliest possible peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the crisis,” Patriarch Gregorios stated, arguing that global involvement has only caused the conflict to escalate.
Over the past two and a half years, he said, “Eastern and Western countries have not stopped sending weapons, money, military experts, secret service agents and Salafist fundamentalist armed gangs of thugs and criminals” to Syria. These forces, he charged, have been “far more dangerous even than destructive chemical weapons.”
Encouraged by outside forces, the patriarch said, these factors have contributed to death, displacement and destruction, “not to mention the wrecking of both infrastructure and institutions.”
They have also led to “rape, extortion of ransom, robberies, assaults on civilians, hatred, enmity, revenge, exacerbation of ethnic and religious conflicts,” he said.
In the face of growing troubles, Patriarch Gregorios III still hopes for “a unanimous, global campaign to be orchestrated to prepare seriously and carefully” for the proposed United Nations-backed Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference that has been tentatively suggested for later this year.
Among other calls for peace in the region, Pope Francis has announced a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in the world and particularly in Syria on Sept. 7. He will lead a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square that evening and is asking people of all faith backgrounds to participate locally “in whatever way they can.”
Patriarch Gregorios said Melkite Catholics also “are launching a campaign of prayer in our churches, homes, youth movements and confraternities.”
He added that they “join in the calls for prayer that have been launched around the world for peace in Syria, as that is the real movement for solidarity with Syria.”
“Contrary to the calls to arms, attacks and military interventions,” the patriarch said, “we enjoy listening to appeals from around the world aimed at creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, dialogue, humanitarian solidarity, hope, forgiveness and finally peace.”