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Pope Calls for Dialogue in Syria

Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad near Homs Feb. 13. Intense artillery and rocket fire by government forces 11 Feb. on residential areas in Homs left at least 200 people dead, opposition activists said. (photo: CNS/handout via Reuters) 

14 Feb 2012 – by Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As a sectarian conflict in Syria intensified, Pope Benedict XVI called on all Syrians to begin a process of dialogue and reminded the government of its duty to recognize its citizens’ legitimate demands.

In Beirut, the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church warned against toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for dialogue to solve the crisis in the country.

“Our fear since the beginning of the bloody crisis in Syria was that the refusal of any sort of dialogue between the regime and the opposition will surely create a state of chaos that will definitely lead to a civil war,” Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service.

“The world must sustain all efforts for a dialogue to solve problems and uphold the democracy in a realistic and gradual way. Forcing the departure of the Syrian president will be a step for a civil war based on confessionalism,” the patriarch said.

In St. Peter“s Square at the Vatican Feb. 12, the pope expressed his concern for “the dramatic and increasing episodes of violence in Syria.“

At the end of his Angelus prayer, he said he was praying for everyone who has been killed, injured and affected by a conflict that is “increasingly worrisome.”

“I renew an urgent appeal to put an end to the violence and bloodshed,” he said.

“I invite everyone, especially Syria’s political authorities, to favor the path of dialogue, reconciliation and a commitment to peace” he said.

“It’s urgent to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the various sectors of the nation, as well as to the wishes of the international community, which are concerned about the common good of the whole country and the region,” he said.

A nationwide uprising against al-Assad’s government began last March, but Syrian security forces stepped up efforts to defeat the opposition movement, especially in Homs, a center of resistance.

Intense artillery and rocket fire by government forces Feb. 11 on residential areas in Homs left at least 200 people dead, opposition activists said.

Bomb blasts in Aleppo Feb. 10 left at least 28 people dead and 200 others wounded.

The United Nations has not provided an updated death toll since it estimated in December that more than 5,000 people had been killed since the violence began last March.

Patriarch Younan, noting that Syria is among the most secularized countries in the Middle East, warned that a confessional war in Syria would be far worse than a political one.

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Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Arab Spring/Awakening