Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt
Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria,
the Middle East, and throughout the World
Patrick’s Cathedral, Archdiocese of New York
sisters in Christ-our-Peace,
It is marvelous
how our readings at Mass, even though their sequential pattern was established long
ago, somehow always show themselves to be relevant to whatever is happening in our
lives, in the world. Truly, it is a mark of how God’s Spirit addresses His people through the Church and
her Liturgy which proclaims God’s eternal Word in every time, in every place,
including tonight to us gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for this special
occasion of prayer for peace.
is our peace, we approach him for words of peace. Seldom does He speak of war; yet
in this evening’s Sunday liturgy, the very prospect of war is indicated by our Gospel,
wherein our Lord teaches a parable to show us the way to be His disciples.
Christ, the ‘discipleship’, is not some blindly unthinking action, but requires
deliberation and planning. Yes, discipleship comes at a cost, not a monetary
price, but it will cost us the whole of our whole life, which is to say, our
whole self, holding back on no account: neither for father nor mother, nor
riches and power, not even our own life do we value ahead of our service of the
God’s Kingdom of peace. To place our
very selves at the service of the Kingdom has the obvious consequence that we
are no longer free arbitrarily to do as we would wish but rather are made truly
free to serve Christ and one another.
The king in
our Gospel today, who sits down to weigh the consequences of war for his people,
is moved to sue rather for peace when he considers the dismal options.
As our first
reading today reminds us,
in this discernment it will not be the wisdom of the world that saves us, but
rather a more profound wisdom which only God can bestow on His people and their
leaders by letting them know what is His will for us, His desire for human
happiness and fulfillment in every generation.
choose today to be a Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Peace, and
particularly for peace in Syria, not because he was waiting for the liturgical readings
to mention the futility of war, but because of the urgency at this critical
juncture of a real commitment from us to peace. The threat of war, yet again, looming
in particular at this time over the people of Syria, already so beset by
tragedy, causes the Holy Father “great suffering and worry.”
The Pope shows us his “heart … deeply wounded [and] anguished by the dramatic
developments” in that beleaguered country.
Pope’s representative to the United Nations, I bring you the Pope’s own words
and urge all of us to take these words to heart: “Today,” says the Pope, “dear
brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with
increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the
heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the
cry for peace!”
Pope, I urge you: take this cry for peace and make it your own, every one of us
here in this great Cathedral, in this great City, in this great Archdiocese,
part of “one great family which is humanity”
crying out all together for peace. Peace today, peace tomorrow, peace here,
peace everywhere, peace for us, peace for every person, peace for our brothers
and our sisters everywhere on earth, and especially in Syria.
Peace is not
simply something good to have, it is essential for our very survival. In 1965,
when Pope Paul VI became the first Pope to address the General Assembly of the
United Nations, he quoted President John F. Kennedy, saying: “Mankind must put
an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”
The Pope went
further yet and made an urgent plea to the nations of the world: “War never
again! Never again war!”
John-Paul II, on his own first visit to the UN, repeated the cry: “War never
again! No more war.” The Catholic Church in every place on earth proclaims this
identical message of peace, prays for peace, educates for peace.”
This is her task – to announce God’s peace – and this is why we gather at this
critical moment in prayer and fasting.
with this, Pope Francis reminds us in calling us to prayer and fasting this
day: “Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected. I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises
from the deep within me.”
As winds of
war howl around Syria in this moment, we urge building and restoring peace
through all options and alternatives, not yet exhausted. How can we think of military
strikes as the only alternative? The end cannot justify the means.
How could we
possibly remain indifferent to the humanitarian disaster that strikes would leave
in their aftermath! Who could take the
responsibility for such a calamity? Who will shelter the refugees and displaced,
those orphaned and widowed? No less than a third of Syria’s population is already
violence would conceivably double that number. The situation is already so grave,
worsening daily; so many are dying of hunger, and many others suffer horribly for
lack of medical care. It is foreseeable that as much as half of the entire population
of Syria will need assistance by year’s end. Imagine the inhumane and
deleterious consequences of military strikes in such a scenario!
What Syria urgently
needs is a cessation of violence, not an escalation of violence. A cease-fire,
even if only partial, would permit humanitarian assistance to reach at least
the hardest hit areas of the country. Helping Syria means finding political and
humanitarian solutions through dialogue and reconciliation, not intrusionary
to place the human being at the centre of our concerns, including in instances
of humanitarian intervention “dehumanizes” us and is profoundly counter-productive.
Would that we could invest our resources and efforts in people as willingly as
we do in the weapons of war! Only a
culture of peace, rooted in the hearts and minds of people and in each one of
us, especially our leaders, can truly bring lasting peace. Peace is the only
path for the survival of mankind. There is no other!
Let us put
aside the perverse logic of violence, of conflict and war! In the pursuit of
peace, including the chastisement of evil, let us never forget that in order to
achieve peace, we have to live by peace. So, turn away from evil and do good!
moment of prayer and fasting let us urge our leaders, like the king in this
Sunday’s parable, to sit down and consider the consequences of resorting yet
again to war, repeating past mistakes. Wars to end wars too easily turn out to
be stimuli to further wars.
Let us abhor
war and embrace the peace God has wrought in Christ.
At every Mass
we pray for peace, acknowledging that it is the Lord Himself who gives us the
gift of peace: “Peace I leave you, my peace
I give you”.
To pray for
peace is of the very nature of our faith commitment; to be a peacemaker is at
the heart of the beatitude the Good News of the gospel gifts to the world. Fellow
Christians: War is not our way!
As Pastor of
the Universal Church, Pope Francis admonishes us to be peacemakers, to instill
hope, the desire for peace in the hearts of all. With solicitude for the whole
world, the Pope exhorts us to stop and to think, like the king in today’s
gospel, before we wound peace any more than it already has been lacerated.
plea is made with full understanding of the horrific complexities of the
situation in Syria. “How much suffering,
how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in
that martyred country,” cries the Pope, “especially among civilians and the
unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future!” He
continues, “With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons. There
is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!”
the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets
Sadly, it is
not difficult in the world today to look around and see the results when
violence was used as counter-productively in pursuit of peace.
where I served as Nuncio, even now, violence rages there every day – on average
90 people a day are killed, figures for the first days of September show that
187 civilians died in a period of just 96 hours. Indeed: “Never has the use of
violence brought lasting peace in its wake.”
where after many years, violence remains an ever-present threat: even a trip to
the shop runs the daily risk of a suicide bomber: “Never has the use of
violence brought lasting peace in its wake.”
will never bring peace in its wake. What fosters lasting peace, Pope Francis
tells us, is: “a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the
only way to peace.”
The only way
for Syria and all conflicts is this: “look at each other as brothers and
decisively and courageously…follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and
so overcome blind conflict.”
begin with weapons, but with people, with people like you and me. Peace begins with the recognition that we constitute
a single human family on the face of the earth.
Until we are prepared to ‘look at one another as brothers and sisters’
we can have no lasting chance of seeing through the utter futility of
conflict. It is my own heart I must
change first; if each waited first for the other to change, no progress would ever
come. “It pertains to each individual to
establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of
justice and love.”
There is a
dimension to this, to every conflict, which rises above and beyond the
individuals themselves who are involved, for the whole of humanity beholds with
horror what these events visit upon their brethren, and so the whole international
community is justly invited to play its part in the responsibility of peacemaking:
by offering what the Pope calls “clear proposals for peace in Syria without
further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the
entire Syrian people.”
For those of
us attached to the United Nations, the Pope’s plea should present a challenge
that we do not baulk from taking up, an invitation to the task of peacemaking
which is, after all, the very reason for the existence of our United Nations. The
time to make a difference is now, this is the moment for us to demonstrate
ourselves true humanitarians, the opportunity to do something that truly helps the
people of Syria find peace has arrived.
Now is the
time for peacemakers to rise up and be counted, to challenge the misguided,
futile and counterproductive logic of violence and war: “War no more! Never
May the Holy
Father’s plea for peace rise up and touch the hearts of all: that each may lay down his weapon and be led
by the universal noble desire for peace.
always prevail! Peace be with you… AMEN.