In a passionate speech on Thursday, Pope Francis condemned as arrogant the mentality of revenge and the abuses of power that lead to violent conflicts.
“Violence begets violence, and we have the impression of being caught up in a spiral of arrogance and inertia from which there is no escape,” the Pope told members of charitable and humanitarian organizations Sept. 29, adding that the evil “which grips our will and conscience should challenge us.”
“Why, even at the cost of untold damage to persons, property and the environment, does man continue to pursue abuses of power, revenge and violence?” he said, and pointed to a recent attack on a U.N. humanitarian convoy as an example.
Acts of violence such as this are part of the “mysterium iniquitatis,” he said, referring to “that evil which is present in man and in history and which needs to be redeemed.”
Francis condemned the attack as “destruction for destruction’s sake,” and stressed that despite the growing suffering due to war and conflict, “the answer to the drama of evil lies in the mystery of Christ.”
Pope Francis spoke to members of charitable organizations gathered in the Vatican for a Sept. 29 symposium on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria, organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
Marking the fifth such meeting, the symposium gathered 80 representatives from various Catholic charitable organizations in the Middle East, as well as those in religious congregations who work in crisis areas.
Among the participants were several bishops from Syria and Iraq, as well as the apostolic nuncios to both countries, Archbishop Mario Zenari and Archbishop Alberto Ortega, respectively. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also spoke during the event, as did Staffan de Mistura, special U.N. envoy to Syria.
In his speech to participants, Pope Francis lamented that despite extensive efforts made in the past five years, “the logic of arms and oppression, hidden interests and violence continues to wreak devastation on these countries.”
“Even now, we have not been able to put an end to the exasperating suffering and repeated violations of human rights,” he said, noting that the consequences of the crisis go “well beyond the region,” and are clearly visible in the ever-growing phenomenon of migration.
Those who work or volunteer in charitable and humanitarian organizations are a reflection of God’s mercy, and a sign that “evil has limits and does not have the last word,” Francis said.
“This is a sign of great hope,” he continued, and offered his thanks to those who pray daily for the victims of the conflicts, particularly the children, observing that “in Aleppo, children have to drink polluted water!”
However, Pope Francis noted that beyond the necessary humanitarian aid, what citizens in the Middle East really want more than anything else is peace.
Because of this, the Pope said he will never tire of asking the international community “for greater and renewed efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East, and of asking not to look the other way.”
“This request is my daily prayer to God, to inspire the minds and hearts of all who have political responsibility, that they may be able to renounce their own interests in order to achieve the greater good: peace,” he said.
Francis also noted that while political leaders certainly play a key role, it is also the responsibility of each individual to commit to being a peacemaker in their own way, “because every situation of violence and injustice is a wound to the body of the whole human family.”
Turning to the Christians in the Middle East who suffer violence and uncertainty, the Pope insisted that in the midst of “so much darkness, these Churches hold high the lamp of faith, hope and charity,” and assured them of his closeness and prayer.
He entrusted these communities and those who work on the ground serving the victims of the humanitarian crisis to the intercession of newly-canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta, whom he called an “exemplar of charity and mercy.”
According to statistics from Cor Unum, the ecclesial network in Iraq and Syria has comprehensively reached more than 9 million individual beneficiaries from 2015-2016.
In 2015, roughly $207 million in humanitarian aid was raised, while as of July, 2016 has yielded $196 million. Since 2011, the crisis in both countries has left around 300,000 people dead and 1 million wounded.
Currently in Syria there are more than 13.5 million people in need of aid, and more than 10 million in Iraq. According to Cor Unum, the number of internal refugees in Syria is 8.7 million while in Iraq the number is 3.4 million, with 4.8 million Syrians having fled to surrounding countries of the Middle East, most significantly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
By Elise Harris