A Step Toward Peace

The situation is still volatile. No one knows what unpredictable twists and turns events may take in the Middle East. For the moment, tensions have eased somewhat as the threat of an American-led military strike targeted at the Syrian regime is delayed. Political realities may be sinking in as the administration sees the case for military action losing momentum.

A chance to advance the main argument – that not to take action would result in America’s losing face in the world for its moral leadership – was lost long before the Aug. 21 atrocity in which the lives of over 1,400 citizens were extinguished by a chemical attack. Horrific as this was for its callous, indiscriminate disregard for innocent lives, is it not rather disingenuous to suddenly muster up outrage over the violence that has already produced 2,021,430 refugees – according to the U.N. Refugee Agency? By year’s end, current conditions persisting, that figure will exceed three million. The loss of life is equally staggering: 110,371, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SGO), since the beginning of the 29-month uprising, with at least 40,146 civilians already killed, including nearly 4,000 women and more than 5,800 children. Not to mention the relentless kidnapping, torture and enslavement of Christians in the region, still grossly underreported by the mainstream media.

While all this has been going on for years, we now learn from an exhaustive survey of news sources (Outbrain, Aug. 26) that Americans viewed 12 times as many pages about Miley Cyrus as they did about Syria – even though the news sources published 2.4 Syria articles for every one about Miley. While parallels are found worldwide, our country has little to boast about its moral superiority or sense of priorities today in whatever virtue and discipline our forebears may have excelled.

Thank God for the courageous vision of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who drew an overflow number of more than 100,000 people in a four-hour prayer vigil last Saturday in St. Peter’s Square. It may be no accident that his initiative – which included an urgent letter to Vladimir Putin, hosting the G20 Leaders’ Summit last week in St. Petersburg – coincides with a promising turn in last week’s ominous progression of events which, we hope and pray, will lead toward a peaceful resolution or, at least, a cessation to the escalation of violence.

No doubt feeling the weight of mounting resistance on the eve of taking his case to the American people, President Obama expressed an openness to a negotiated solution, a sharp turn from his “red line” rhetoric from the previous week. Following a proposal from the Russians – quickly accepted by the Assad regime – to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international control, he has expressed a willingness to pursue a diplomatic track, perhaps avoiding military intervention altogether.

While a halt to intensifying this protracted conflict is certainly a step in the right direction, it is by no means enough to address the suffering of the Syrian people. At present, funding requirements for the regional response plan are at three trillion dollars, only 40 percent of which has been received to date.

As we celebrate Catechetical Sunday this weekend, commissioning catechists in many of our parishes, our hope is that local Church leaders will encourage parishioners to express in prayer and charity their solidarity with people of all faiths in this troubled region who seek only to return to their homes peacefully and to live their faith freely.