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 CNS Story:

POPE-SYRIA Jun-21-2012 (320 words) With photo. xxxi

Appealing for peace in Syria, pope expresses fear of wider conflict

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The international community must act swiftly and decisively to end the violence in Syria, which "risks becoming a widespread conflict that would have seriously negative consequences for the country and the entire region," Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope expressed his prayers and hopes for peace in Syria during a meeting June 21 with Catholic Church representatives from throughout the Middle East, including the nuncio to Syria and the president of Caritas Syria, and with leaders of Eastern Catholic churches.

The representatives and leaders were at the Vatican for a meeting of the Vatican's coordinating body for church funding agencies that assist Eastern Catholics and Catholics throughout the Middle East.

The violence in Syria began in March 2011 and has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians as soldiers battle forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad.

Pope Benedict said he wanted to express again his sorrow for the suffering of the Syrian people, particularly innocent children and defenseless citizens.

"May our prayer, our commitment and our concrete brotherhood in Christ, like the oil of consolation, help them not lose the light of hope in these dark moments, and may God grant the leaders wisdom of heart so they would halt all bloodshed and violence, which brings only pain and death, and open the possibility for reconciliation, agreement and peace," he said.

The pope called on the international community to do everything possible to promote peace in Syria, and he launched "a pressing and heartfelt appeal that in the face of the extreme needs of the population humanitarian assistance would be guaranteed."

With Catholic representatives from Lebanon also present at the meeting, the pope prayed that Mary would "watch over the upcoming trip that -- if it pleases God -- I will make to Lebanon" in September to present his document reflecting on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East.

END


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