Dialogue and negotiations are “the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence” in Syria, said Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
As Western leaders expressed strong convictions that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack against its own citizens and vowed to take action, Pope Francis met at the Vatican 29 August with King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
Jordan borders Syria and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting that began in March 2011 in an attempt to oust President Bashar Assad.
The king and queen’s meeting with Pope Francis, who technically was still on vacation, was arranged hastily after tensions grew in the Middle East over the reported atrocities in Syria and the unrest in Egypt.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican said that the pope and king “reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation is the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence that each day cause the loss of many human lives, especially among the unarmed population.”
Pope Francis, with an interpreter, spent 20 minutes speaking alone with King Abdullah and Queen Rania before meeting the seven members of the Jordanian delegation. The king and three aides then held a working meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.
When the king arrived, Pope Francis greeted him in English, saying, “Welcome, Your Majesty.”
While reporters were present before the private meeting began, King Abdullah told the pope, “I have tremendous respect for what you are doing and for what the Catholic Church does.”
The Vatican statement said that during the meetings with the pope and with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the two sides also discussed the problem of stability throughout the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the question of the status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The Vatican, the statement said, also expressed appreciation for the king’s commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue and his decision to convoke a conference in September about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.
Although the statement indicated a broad range of topics were touched upon, the meeting drew international attention because of the situation in Syria.