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POPE-SYRIA Jul-30-2012 (410 words) xxxi

Pope, Catholic leaders renew appeal for peace in Syria

By Catholic News Service

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI renewed his appeal for peace in Syria and humanitarian assistance for civilians threatened by the ongoing fighting or seeking refuge far from home.

"I continue to follow with apprehension the tragic and increasing episodes of violence in Syria with their sad sequence of deaths and injuries, including among civilians, and a huge number of people internally displaced or seeking refuge in neighboring countries," the pope said July 29.

After reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict told the crowd that he hoped that suffering Syrians would be guaranteed the necessary humanitarian assistance.

Asking for an end to "all violence and bloodshed," he prayed that God would guide leaders in Syria and in the international community to a negotiated settlement to the fighting.

Tensions began in March 2011 with increased calls for the ouster of President Bashar Assad as part of the Arab Spring movement across North Africa and the Middle East. According to the United Nations, about 10,000 people have died in Syria in the past 16 months, tens of thousands have fled to other countries and hundreds of thousands are internally displaced.

The pope spoke as fighting continued in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and home to substantial Christian communities.

Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told the Vatican's Fides news agency July 30, "We are all very worried about what is happening. We ask everyone to pray for a solution based on dialogue. The various Christian communities of Aleppo -- Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant -- have decided to join forces to meet the needs of the refugees and all those who are in difficulty."

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, told Vatican Radio July 30, that while fighting continues in Aleppo, Homs and other towns mentioned frequently on the news, "the cancer of conflict is spread throughout Syria and the people are fearful and uncertain about the future."

"Knowing firsthand of the good interreligious relations that exist in Syria and the role that religion plays in the region, I appeal to all Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders to join together and with the full weight of their moral authority issue a unanimous and severe warning to all sides in the conflict, in the name of God, to stop the violence and repression that is leading the country to destruction and indescribable suffering and death," the archbishop said.

END


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