Special Report: Pope, USCCB call for dialogue in the Middle East
Pope Francis prays for reduction of tension between U.S. and Iran
Pope Francis led pilgrims in a moment of silent prayer “that the Lord may give us the grace” of peace following the praying of the Angelus on Jan. 5 in St. Peter’s Square. His prayer for peace came just two days after a U.S. drone attack killed Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani and six others on Jan. 3, and a warning of “harsh retaliation” from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei.
“War only brings death and destruction. I call on all parties to keep alive the flame of dialogue and self-control and avoid the shadow of enmity,” the pope stated prior to the moment of silence.
Pope Francis’ Prayer for Peace
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried . ..
Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!” . . . Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division”, “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. . . . Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother”, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam!
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops statement
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued the following statement:
“The U.S. bishops’ conference has spoken out regularly to encourage the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. We urge once again that all parties, in these critical days, embrace peace rather than violence. Peace has been all too elusive – in recent memory alone, war has caused hundreds of thousands of lives to be lost, as well as untold suffering and endemic instability. We have particularly witnessed and addressed growing acts of violence in recent weeks, most recently with the attack on the United States Embassy in Iraq, the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last Friday, and the missile attacks on Iraqi bases yesterday. We have called for necessary diplomacy, courageous dialogue, and tireless efforts toward peace to resolve such global conflicts. We do so now, and we will do so always.
“May the Lord help all parties in this time of growing belligerence to peer through one another’s transgressions and appreciate the legitimate fears that lie behind them. All must discover islands of trust in a sea of distrust, do the hard work of reasoning together, acknowledge the futility of further violence and military action, and humbly pursue the common good together. Let us reflect on Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message for 2020 and pray ‘to overcome evil with good and respond to hatred with love.’
“We join in the hope expressed today that the people of Iran share in the promise of a great future, and that the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it. In this spirit, we fervently believe, hope, work for, and indeed anticipate, days of peace ahead. We have just celebrated the birth of our Lord with Christmas. Jesus, as the Prince of Peace, calls us to the renewal of the heavens and earth. Let us bear witness to this truth, beginning with each of us.”
Reactions from other Christian Leaders
Apostolic nuncio to Iran
Archbishop Leo Boccardi, apostolic nuncio to Iran, told the Italian news agency ANSA on Jan. 3: “I think tensions have reached a level never seen before, and this is worrying and further complicates the situation in the region.”
In comments to the Vatican News on Jan. 3 the archbishop went on to say, “The appeal is to lower tension, to call everyone to negotiation and to believe in dialogue knowing that, as history has always shown us, war and weapons aren’t the solution to the problems afflicting the world today.”
Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako
Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, invited Christians and Muslims to pray for the decision-makers at the Epiphany Mass celebrated at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baghdad on Jan. 6. “Wisdom is required to avoid the ‘volcanic eruption’ we are about to face.” The cardinal called on world leaders to avoid further escalation because “innocent people will be the fuel for such fire.”
“In the face of this sensitive and dangerous situation, we call on all the parties concerned to exercise restraint, show wisdom and act rationally, and (to) sit at the table of dialogue and understanding to spare the country the unimaginable consequences … We raise our prayers to God Almighty in order for life to return to its normal course, and (for) Iraq and its people (to) enjoy peace, security and goodness.”
Timeline of escalation of tension between the U.S. and Iran
The killing of Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3 followed several recent incidents between the U.S. and Iranian-backed forces.
Dec. 27: Iraqi Shiite militia Kataib Hezbollah fired 31 rockets at a base in Kirkuk, wounding several U.S. and Iraqi servicemen and killing one American contractor.
Dec. 29: In retaliation, the U.S. bombed five sites of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 fighters and wounding 55 others.
Dec. 31: Supporters of pro-Iranian militia attacked and set fire to one wall of the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces used tear gas and stun grenades to deter the protest.
Jan. 1: The protest at the U.S. embassy ends and supporters disperse.
Jan. 2: U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned that pre-emptive action “to protect American forces to protect lives” would be taken if there were indications that Iran or Iranian-backed groups were planning any attacks on U.S. interests.