The long journey of Lent, from suffering to death to the joy of resurrection, captures the contours of the mystery Christians are called to live constantly throughout their lives. But occasionally this cycle seems to gets stuck in suffering mode, a reality reflected well by the six-year-old Syrian Civil War. The April 4 chemical attack that killed more than 80 people and injured more than 550 others was but the latest atrocity in the long string of heartbreaking news to emerge from Syria in recent years.
It was, however, also the first act of the Syrian Civil War to draw a unilateral military response from the United States, which launched 59 missiles on April 7 at the airbase from where the chemical attack was believed to have originated. Both the Syriac Catholic patriarch and the Latin-rite Catholic bishop expressed disbelief that the strike had been carried out before a thorough investigation could be made into the attack.
In the days since, as the world grapples with the changed geopolitical realities and which global powers may or may not be drawn into deeper conflict, a warning from Pope Francis, first uttered back in 2014, reverberates: that World War III is already being “fought piecemeal.” And it is immensely destructive.
“Whereas God carries forward the work of creation, and we men and women are called to participate in his work, war destroys,” he said. “War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers. War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: It seeks to grow by destroying.”
The pope has made similar statements in the wake of subsequent terrorist attacks and other tragedies.
As we look ahead to the pope’s trip to Portugal on May 12-13 to mark the centenary of the first apparition of Mary to three shepherd children at Fatima, it’s worth noting that Mary’s exhortation to the children — to pray the Rosary every day for peace — is as timely as ever.
As is the plea of Pope Francis, echoed by the U.S. bishops in a statement following the U.S. strikes, that ultimately peace in Syria will have to be achieved through dialogue and reconciliation. “The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution. We ask the United States to work tirelessly with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities,” wrote Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, in an April 7 joint statement.
In the face of a protracted human tragedy that obliterates and overpowers every threshold for comprehension, let alone meaningful empathy, these words from the bishops are worth taking to heart and bringing to prayer, especially in the Rosary. We know that peace occurs through God’s prompting in individual hearts, that this grace is not some abstraction. The bishops provide much-needed specificity, which sharpens our appeal to God in the face of so much pain, despair and — for so much of the world — numbness.
Together, let us pray for an end to this season of suffering in Syria and the beginning of an Easter resurrection for the nation and the people.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor